Probiotic Healthy Chocolate

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Healthy Chocolate Science Update – Q1 2009

Healthy Chocolate Science Update – Q1 2009

In this paper, I will examine the influence of manufacturing processes on the availability of flavonols contained in cocoa beans. I will also present the most recent research conducted in 2008 on cocoa and health, and connect the results of the University of Utah study on Xocai with other pertinent studies.

A 2008 study completed by researchers in Spain examined the impact of manufacturing processes on cocoa powder. The researchers found that ―dutching‖ (or alkalinization) of cocoa powder resulted in a 60% loss of total flavonoid capacity. While dutching might make cocoa more palatable by removing bitterness, it also robs cocoa of most of the beneficial properties associated with flavonoids.

Even the process of fermenting cocoa beans contributes to the loss of potent flavonoids.
This study also showed a 67% loss of the (-)-epicatechin, which is the main powerhouse flavonoid in cocoa.

Need more convincing? The researchers also discovered that dutching contributes to an 86% loss of the other important flavonol in cocoa—quercetin. Quercitin is a very potent antioxidant and free-radical scavenger that was not even reported to be found in cocoa before.
Pound-for-pound, unprocessed cocoa contains as much quercetin as broccoli, apples, or red grapes.

As recently as August 2008, a study reported the discovery of dietary resveratrol in cocoa powder (about half as much as an average California red wine), further bolstering the argument of cocoa as a beneficial food.
Why is the preservation (or even enhancement) of cocoa polyphenols of such great importance? The answer is two-fold: the obvious biological activity of polyphenols, combined with the limited absorption of polyphenols in the gut. This means the more potent the cocoa, the more beneficial to the consumer. Epicatechin demonstrates the highest absorption in the blood, which is why it is important to maximize the amount available in the product.

Several studies have examined the absorption of flavanols into the bloodstream (―bioavailability‖). These studies found that the gastric environment has little-to-no effect on polyphenols. Epicatechins and catechins are readily absorbed by the upper intestinal gut into the bloodstream. Epicatechin metabolites (glucuronide, sulfate, and methyl) are found in blood plasma very soon after being after hitting the intestinal gut. The larger molecules of flavanols not absorbed in the small intestine travel to, and are metabolized by, bacteria in the large intestine, producing other beneficial polyphenols. These valuable compounds can be found even up to six or 12 hours after the cocoa product has been ingested.

These studies also discovered epicatechin metabolites and quercetin in the brain bloodstream soon after the ingestion of cocoa.

Another important factor to consider is whether an increase of polyphenols increase antioxidant levels in the blood. Studies have found definite increases in blood ORAC levels associated with cocoa consumption, indicating that the flavonoids are being utilized by the body. The ORAC (oxygen-radical absorbance capacity) test measures the capacity of a compound to absorb or neutralize oxygen-free radicals, which are harmful to the body. An increased presence of antioxidants gives the body another weapon to fight damaging molecules that are created inside the body every day.

An increase of total serum glutathione, also shown in these studies, indicates that the flavonol molecules are actually doing their jobs inside the living body. Glutathione (a protein found inside cells) is essential for the function of immune cells and disease-fighting. Another interesting and informative test determines whether the metabolites, or breakdown products, of the flavonoids are found in the urine. Presence of metabolites in urine indicates that the molecules are being used by the body. One of the easiest molecules to check in urine is isoprostane—a molecule that damages the body. If antioxidants are absorbed and functioning correctly, there should be a reduced level of isoprostane found in urine. High levels of isoprostane are associated with increased risk for dementia.

The study performed in 2008 by the University of Utah showed statistically significant increases of ORAC levels in blood plasma, increases of glutathione levels in plasma, and decreases in isoprostane levels found in urine. University of Utah researchers found these results using both a standard dose of Xocai Active™ (one ounce, three times per day), as well as an increased dose (three ounces, three times per day). These findings confirmed other reports of increased serum ORAC levels, increased glutathione levels, and decreased isoprostane levels found in other ―in-vivo‖ tests (tests performed in the human body) with dark cocoa powder.

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