Chocolate-eating Bacteria for Health
In the too-good-to-be-true category, an undergraduate researcher and her mentor report at the American Chemical Society that your intestinal bacteria digest chocolate into products that make your heart healthy.
I wish the original report were available, since the press report has it garbled, but the story apparently was reported in a talk or poster at the ACS meeting in Dallas. The press says that “stomach” bacteria are the cause, but in fact Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria inhabit the intestine.
The researchers, undergraduate Maria Moore and her professor John Finley at Louisiana State say they constructed a “model digestive tract” that aims to simulate the human intestines. Placing human fecal bacteria in this model system, they added cocoa. Cocoa, the active ingredient in dark chocolate, contains antioxidant molecules such as polyphenols. The polyphenols however are in long chains that don’t get absorbed well by our intestine.
But our intestinal bacteria possess an amazing range of enzymes to break down almost any organic compound. The Bifidobacterium apparently breaks down these long-chain polyphenols into smaller ones that a human body can absorb. Antioxidants have many potential benefits including cancer prevention.
Why dark chocolate in particular? Not sure, but dark chocolate (the real stuff) has twice the cocoa content as “milk” chocolate, and half the sugar (roughly); so instead of eating sugar, the bacteria are forced to dine upon the tougher stuff that’s good for us.