Scientists have found that compounds in cocoa can affect the balance of bacteria in the intestines (Magrone, Russo & Jirillo, Frontiers in Immunology, June 9, 2017). Those changes in turn seem to reduce inflammation. Could eating cocoa in oatmeal for breakfast help to control arthritis pain? One reader says yes.
Cocoa in Oatmeal for Arthritis:
Q. After reading that dark chocolate has health benefits, I learned to enjoy it. Eating it didn’t reduce my arthritis aches, though.
Then I read in the newspaper that researchers discovered that gut microbes convert some chocolate ingredients into anti-inflammatory compounds.
Apparently, two tablespoons of cocoa powder a day is sufficient. This must be plain 100 percent cocoa powder, such as is used in baking, NOT Dutch-processed cocoa.
Chemist Finley, the researcher, said he avoids the sugar and fat that would come from eating so much chocolate candy by putting cocoa in oatmeal every morning. Since following his example, I’ve rarely had arthritis pain.
A. Your letter sent us on a search for Dr. Finley’s research. We found a press release regarding Bifidobacterium in the digestive tract producing anti-inflammatory compounds by fermenting cocoa powder. The study should be published in 2018.
Cocoa and Immune Responses in the Intestine:
Other research has demonstrated that cocoa compounds can reduce immunoglobulin secretion in the intestine (Camps-Bossacoma et al, Frontiers in Nutrition, June 27, 2017). This research demonstrated a benefit in experimental arthritis in rats, but we don’t have clinical trials in humans.
We are delighted to learn how well you are doing by adding two tablespoons of cocoa to your morning oatmeal. We have documented a number of other non-drug approaches to alleviating arthritis pain in our new 104-page book, The Graedons’ Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis.
Is There a Downside?
People benefit from reducing the inflammation around their joints, but there may be some disadvantages to reducing immune reactions in the intestine. A study in young pigs found that cocoa flavanols together with the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnossus lowered their immune response so much that they were slower to clear intestinal parasites (Jang et al, Nutrients, Oct. 2017). Thus, a reaction that is very beneficial in one context could be detrimental in another.