Cocoa Powder Helps Fight Obesity Inflammation, Diabetes
June 13, 2013

Diabetes And Inflammation Control From Cocoa Powder

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Hot cocoa - the go-to drink for warding off the winter´s chill - might also help obese people better control inflammation-related diseases, like diabetes, according to researchers at Penn State.

The researchers fed two groups of mice a high-fat diet. One group was also fed a cocoa supplement — the human equivalent of 10 tablespoons of cocoa powder, or four or five cups of hot cocoa. The cocoa group experienced less obesity-related inflammation according to Joshua Lambert, associate professor of food science at Penn State.

"What surprised me was the magnitude of the effect," Lambert said. "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 team found that several indicators of inflammation and diabetes were much lower in the mice fed the high-fat diet with the cocoa supplement than in the group without the cocoa. The indicators for the cocoa group were almost identical to the ones found in the control group fed a low-fat diet. The cocoa group had approximately 27 percent lower plasma insulin levels, for example, than the mice without cocoa. High insulin levels can indicate the presence of diabetes.

The levels of triglycerides were also reduced in the mice eating the cocoa supplement by more than 32 percent, according to Lambert´s team. High triglyceride levels are indicators of fatty liver disease and are associated with inflammation and diabetes. Another side effect of the cocoa diet was a slight, but significant, drop in body weight gain.

Obesity-related chronic inflammation has been linked to several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease. However, the reason for the inflammation response is still unknown. According to Lambert, there are two theories on inflammation and obesity that have emerged which may help explain cocoa's role in mitigating inflammation. One of the theories suggests that excess fat may activate a distress signal that causes immune cells to become activated and cause inflammation. The findings show that cocoa may reduce the precursors that act as a distress signal to initiate this inflammatory response.

Another theory, Lambert said, 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 in the digestive system — called the gut barrier function. The fat also interferes with the body´s ability to alert an immune response. The study shows that the cocoa — which actually has a low-calorie, low-fat and high-fiber content, may help improve gut barrier function.

"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."

Future research, Lambert said, will be conducted to better identify why the cocoa powder is effective in treating inflammation. He hopes it will also help to determine if the treatment is suitable for humans.

The findings of this study were published in the online version of the European Journal of Nutrition.