Thank Microbes for Chocolate’s Health Benefits
In the back and forth battle of good-for-you/bad-for-you foods, new research is helping to solidify dark chocolate’s spot with the good guys, by providing a scientific explanation for cocoa’s tick in the pros column. While a host of previous research has suggested an equal host of health benefits to dark chocolate consumption, including lower blood pressure and decreased body weight, researchers didn’t know just how chocolate achieved those feats. (In addition to its health benefits, “welded” chocolate can also help teach science—maybe it’ll show up at the Superbowl of STEM next month.)
But new research conducted at Louisiana State University and presented at the recent American Chemical Society annual meeting tested what happened to cocoa powder when processed in the laboratory by a mock human digestive system—complete with a mimicked gut and a colon colonized with bacteria from human stool samples (which lead researcher John Finley tells NPR came from mostly graduate students paid $20). The results suggest that you can thank those bacteria for making chocolate good for you. The research is part of a exploding field dedicated to determining how the microbes that call us home, collectively termed the human microbiome, impact our lives—while we once thought the relationship between us and our some trillion bacteria was commensal (i.e., they benefit and we are unaffected), tons of new research, including the government-funded Human Microbiome Project, suggests the relationship is instead symbiotic (i.e., we both benefit) (source).