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Surprising Good News for Obese and Diabetic Cocoa Lovers

Tim Boyer's picture
Cup of coffee with cocoa

In a surprising finding published in the European Journal of Nutrition, researchers from Penn State University report that cocoa powder has some significant health benefits in controlling inflammation-related disease such as that experienced by obese and diabetic patients.

According to a news release by Penn State University, researchers interested in discovering the effect polyphenolic compounds such as those found in tea and red wine can have on fighting inflammation, is also found in cocoa and could have unrealized health benefits in humans.

"Most obesity researchers tend to steer clear of chocolate because it is high in fat, high in sugar and is usually considered an indulgence," states Joshua Lambert associate professor of food science and co-author of the study. "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."

In the study, the researchers investigated whether feeding mice a high-fat diet with and without cocoa powder would show any difference in several biological indicators of inflammation and diabetes in the mice.

During an 18-week long study, male mice were divided into two groups with one group being fed a low-fat diet and the other group a high-fat diet. After the first 8 weeks of the study, mice within the high-fat diet group were then randomly separated into two subgroups that differed only in that one of the subgroups had an 8% cocoa powder added to their high-fat diet over the remaining 10 weeks left to the study.

After the 18-week period, blood and tissue samples from all of the mice were collected for comparative biochemical analysis.

What the researchers found was that:

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• Mice fed the supplemental cocoa powder with their high fat diet showed a significantly reduced rate of body weight gain (15.8 %) and increased fecal lipid content (55.2 %) compared to the high-fat fed control mice that did not receive the cocoa powder supplement.

• The cocoa powder supplement improved insulin resistance and reduced the severity of obesity-related fatty liver disease in the mice fed the supplemental cocoa powder in comparison to the high-fat fed control mice that did not receive the cocoa powder.

• Cocoa powder supplementation also significantly decreased blood levels of markers of inflammation in the mice fed the supplemental cocoa powder.

• The cocoa powder supplement reduced the levels of liver triglycerides in the high-fat diet/cocoa powder fed mice by more than 32 percent, indicating a decrease in fatty liver disease related to inflammation.

"What surprised me was the magnitude of the effect," said Joshua Lambert. "There wasn't as big of an effect on the body weight as we expected, but I was surprised at the dramatic reduction of inflammation and fatty liver disease."

The researchers stated that the amount of coca powder the mice ate is the human equivalent of 10 tablespoons of cocoa powder―about four or five cups of hot cocoa―during the 10-week period. Future research will be conducted to identify why cocoa powder is so effective in treating inflammation and to determine if it is applicable to humans with obesity and/or diabetes.

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: “Dietary cocoa ameliorates obesity-related inflammation in high fat-fed mice” European Journal of Nutrition March 2013; Yeyi Gu, Shan Yu, and Joshua D. Lambert.