Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.
Why is this research important: Chocolate is typically associated with negative health consequences because of its sugar and fat content. However, the cocoa that makes chocolate chocolate is rich in fibre and antioxidant molecules, and some studies in humans suggest that chocolate consumption is associated with health benefits. These include reduced risk of stroke, coronary heart disease and type II diabetes, all of which are strongly linked to obesity.
What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers fed mice a high-fat diet, which resulted in them becoming obese. They then supplemented their diets with 80mg of cocoa powder per gram of food, lasting 10 weeks. They then compared these mice to those of the control group who were only fed a high-fat diet, measuring a variety of factors including body weight and liver fat.
Key takeaway(s) from this research: Cocoa was associated with a 21% lower rate of weight gain and 28% less liver fat compared with control mice. Treated mice had smaller spleen weights, suggesting lower levels of inflammation. Cocoa consumption was also associated with 56% lower levels of oxidative stress and 75% lower levels of mitochondrial DNA damage in the liver compared with the control mice.
Though the mechanism for the health benefits of cocoa aren’t well understood, previous animal studies in the same lab have suggested that some chemicals in cocoa can inhibit the digestion and absorption of fats and carbohydrates, and this same mechanism may apply in humans. In humans, the amount of cocoa powder used in this study would equate to about 10 tablespoons a day – quite a lot, but certainly not unachievable. However, the lead author doesn’t suggest that anyone, obese or otherwise, should simply start adding cocoa to their diets without making any other changes. It may still be beneficial to substitute cocoa for other foods, especially snack foods with high calorie content.