Good news for anyone fearing the Easter chocolate bunny avalanche: chocolate also boasts positive qualities. It is able to lift our spirits and, in this way, may help fight depression. But only if it has a very high cocoa content. In this case, regular intake of chocolate boosts microbial diversity in the gut, referred to as the gut microbiome or gut flora which in turn impacts how we think and feel. The complete study, which was conducted by Korean scientists, is published in Journal of Nutritional Chemistry.
They scientists observed a significant increase in bacteria, in particular of the Blautia species. “The metabolites released by these microbes could, via the gut-brain-axis, influence brain functionality and have an antidepressant effect”, reports science journalist Joachim Czichos. Regarding the connection between microbiome and depression, he quotes the study saying that earlier studies had “consistently reported that the microbiota of healthy controls are enriched in Blautia in comparison to those of patients with psychiatric disorders such as MDD (major depressive disorder), autism, and schizophrenia.” At the same time, there were reduced levels of other bacteria, e.g. Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. The more diverse the range of bacterial species, and the higher the share of Blautia, the greater the positive change in the subject’s mood.
Chocolate with a high cocoa content has long been considered to be beneficial for our health. One reason for this is that cocoa contains flavonoids. They are believed to help to prevent specific diseases by widening blood vessels. In addition, they are supposed to reduce stress and improve memory function. The present study explored the influence of dark chocolate (in this case, 30 grams per day with 85% cocoa content) on the gut flora (by examining faecal specimens) and the participants’ mood state (using a questionnaire).
There are also other ways to achieve a balanced gut flora, e.g., with the right diet. The latter’s positive impact on mental health and depression and its ability to prevent other diseases and strengthen the immune system has already been demonstrated in many studies. The project in Korea now specifically explored the effect of dark chocolate on the gut-brain-axis.