Thursday, August 22, 2013


The Chocolate industry does not miss any opportunity in singing paeans about the benefits of consuming their products in keeping some of the inflammation related such as Diabetes away. But it seems to be overlooking or deliberately glossing over the fact that Chocolate is also a rich source of sugar and highly saturated fat, both considered "villains of peace" in modern society where many people are heavily over weight and obese. No doubt that Chocolate products do contain cocoa solids derived from Cacoa beans but its concentration in the finished products is rather small. Predominance of sugar and fat can override the potential benefits the antioxidants in cocoa can confer. That is the reason why the industry is promoting bitter chocolates that contain high levels of cocoa solids. Even these chocolates are high in fat which cannot be glossed over. In a recent study scientists have reported that cocoa powder which is a by product of cocoa processing industry has the ability to reduce inflammation very significantly through studies carried out on mice. The findings are interesting, though there are a few questions that still beg for an answer. Here is a take on this issue. 

The researchers reported that several indicators of inflammation and diabetes in the mice that were fed the cocoa supplement were much lower than the mice that were fed the high-fat diet without the cocoa powder and almost identical to the ones found that were fed a low-fat diet in the control group. For example, they had about 27 percent lower plasma insulin levels than the mice that were not fed cocoa. High levels of insulin can signal that a patient has diabetes. The cocoa powder supplement also reduced the levels of liver triglycerides in mice by a little more than 32 percent, according to Lambert, who worked with Yeyi Gu, graduate student in food science, and Shan Yu, a graduate student in physiology. Elevated triglyceride levels are a sign of fatty liver disease and are related to inflammation and diabetes. The mice also saw a slight but significant drop in the rate of body weight gain, according to the researchers, who reported their findings in the online version of the European Journal of Nutrition. While researchers have linked obesity-related chronic inflammation to several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease, the reason for the inflammation response is not completely known. Lambert said two theories on inflammation and obesity that have emerged may help explain cocoa's role in mitigating inflammation. In one theory, Lambert said excess fat may activate a distress signal that causes immune cells to become activated and cause inflammation. The cocoa may reduce the precursors that act as a distress signal to initiate this inflammatory response. Lambert said that another theory is that excess fat in the diet interferes with the body's ability to keep a bacterial component called endotoxin from entering the bloodstream through gaps between cells in the digestive system -- gut barrier function -- and alerting an immune response. The cocoa in this case may help improve gut barrier function. Cocoa, although commonly consumed in chocolate, actually has low-calorie content, low-fat content and high-fiber content. "Most obesity researchers tend to steer clear of chocolate because it is high in fat, high in sugar and is usually considered an indulgence," Lambert said. "However, cocoa powder is low in fat and low in sugar. We looked at cocoa because it contains a lot of polyphenolic compounds, so it is analogous to things like green tea and wine, which researchers have been studying for some of their health benefits."

From time to time antioxidants are touted as panacea for all diseases linked to cellular inflammation. But there is very little clarity regarding the mechanism involved in the action of various antioxidants and supplements in the market though there are thousands of publications dealing with this subject. Even one is not sure about the dynamics of absorption of different antioxidants from various sources across the GI tract. In the present study the scientists have not indicated regarding the dosage of cocoa powder required to elicit favorable response and invariably extrapolation of results from mice studies has its own flaws. Definitely there is a need to extend the scope of such studies with clinical trials on human beings under actual conditions. The authors may have shown an indication regarding the potential benefits of cocoa powder for mitigating some of the modern life style disorders like Diabetes but it may be premature to jump to any conclusions as of now. 


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