How Chocolate Works Its Health Magic

Cacao, the raw form of chocolate, is bursting with anti-oxidants believed to protect us against cardiovascular disease, premature aging and some forms of cancer. It is truly a Brain Warrior power food. We’re familiar with cacoa’s many health benefits, but until now, we haven’t had a clue about how it exerts its positive effects in the body. Researchers at Louisiana State University (LSU) have unraveled that puzzle with a study showing that in the stomach cacao is gobbled up by certain beneficial bacteria that then ferment it into heart-healthy anti-inflammatory compounds. The bacteria with a taste for cacao are bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria.

And here’s a tip from the study leader, LSU’s John Finley, Ph.D. He says you can magnify the health benefits of cacoa by combining it with pomegranates and acai berries. That works for me! Pomegranate seeds and juice are among my favorite sources of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. They’re also packed with B vitamins, folic acid, potassium and iron. Acai berries from Brazil are said to have 10 times the antioxidant power of other berries. Dr. Finley also noted that cacoa delivers an even greater health punch if you’re also taking prebiotics, indigestible carbohydrates found in cooked garlic and other foods. When these substances reach the digestive system, they promote the growth and expansion of the population of the cacoa-loving beneficial bacteria and have the added effect of diminishing the population of co-existing undesirable bacteria.

Are You Ready for Chocolate Pills?

No joke! Researchers are looking for volunteers for a government and industry-sponsored study to see if chocolate can help prevent heart attacks and stroke. And that’s where the chocolate pills come in. Researchers have come up with a pill that contains all the nutrients in chocolate but none of the sugar and fat. Putting all those nutrients in a pill is probably the only way to devise a study to test the effects of chocolate against those of a placebo. After all, it would be pretty hard to come up with a substance that looks like chocolate and tastes like chocolate but is missing the nutrients responsible for the heart health benefits.

We know from previous studies that antioxidants called flavonols in chocolate can lead to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as improvements in the body’s sensitivity to insulin, and improved ability of blood vessels to dilate. But so far, we don’t know if those positive changes will add up to prevention of heart attacks and strokes. The 18,000 men and women who will participate in the study will take the tasteless real or ersatz chocolate pills for four years. The researchers are also going to use the study to test whether multivitamins can help prevent cancer. So far, all we know for sure is that taking multivitamins can be cancer-protective in older, healthy men.

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