Chocolate in Science

I’m always the first one to roll my eyes at the latest “study” that came out touting the antioxidant or other health related properties of various foods (chocolate, wine, etc). Sure, a lot of them are based on what I would consider “real science” but get a bit blown out of proportion by the media. However, today I was doing a literature search (“scientist” is my day job) and came across a paper entitled: “Protective Activity of Theobroma cacao L. Phenolic Extract on AML12 and MLP29 Liver Cells by Preventing Apoptosis and Inducing Autophagy.” (Arlorio, M et al. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2009 (57): 10612-10618) It immediately caught my eye because it had Theobroma cacao in the title, and as I read it, I found it to be very interesting and wanted to share the main findings.

To sum up (and translate the title!), there are small molecules in chocolate called phenols which the researchers extracted from both roasted and unroasted cacao beans (for comparison). They fed them to liver cells and observed some interesting results. After letting the cells “consume” the chocolate chemicals, they added celecoxib (CLX), which is an anti-inflammatory drug that is known to kill liver cells by causing them to go into a process called apoptosis. Apoptosis is also known as programmed cell death, or cell suicide, and is a very complicated process by which cells detect that they are damaged or under too much stress and gradually shut down and die.

They looked at the cells after giving them CLX to see how many were still alive. More cells survived if they had been fed chocolate. The researchers showed that the chemicals in chocolate can actually protect the cells from apoptosis and keep them alive so they have a chance to recover. That’s pretty cool! That means it could be possible to help protect your liver from disease by eating chocolate!

A few disclaimers: The study was done in vitro which means in glass, so the cells are not in their natural environment. Therefore, it is possible that cells behave differently in the body than they do in a petri dish. In addition, unroasted chocolate was better than roasted chocolate in this study, but we usually eat chocolate that has been roasted. There are more, but I won’t get into them here.

However, who doesn’t love a good excuse to really enjoy that dark chocolate bar? 🙂

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Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 3:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. I wonder if aging contributes to increased liver cell apoptosis. I am 84, and recently have developed a taste for dark chocolate. I liked chocolate when I was younger, but milk chocolate, not dark bittersweet chocolate, and not every day. My guess is that it is not my liver calling for help, but more probably my gut wanting to make more serotonin.


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