By Robert Preidt
Louisiana State University researchers tested cocoa powders in a model of the digestive tract and found that certain bacteria in the stomach eat dark chocolate, ferment it and then release anti-inflammatory compounds that benefit the heart.
The study was scheduled for presentation Tuesday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Dallas.
"We found that there are two kinds of microbes in the gut: the good ones and the bad ones," Maria Moore, an undergraduate student and one of the study authors, said in a society news release.
"The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate," Moore said in the news release. "When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory."
Study leader John Finley, a professor in LSU's department of food science, said, "When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke."
Finley said he believes this is the first study to examine dark chocolate's effects on different types of stomach bacteria.
The researchers also found evidence that people could gain even greater health benefits if they eat dark chocolate with solid fruits such as pomegranates and acai.
Data and conclusions presented at meetings typically are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.