Can dark chocolate protect against the effects of kidney disease?
Can a few squares of dark chocolate a day help fight complications in cases of chronic kidney disease (CKD)? Given the beneficial effects of cocoa on cardiovascular health, the microbiota and the brain, this may well be the case.
Theobroma cacao is the botanical name for the cacao tree; but did you know that Theobroma means “food of the gods” in Greek? Once reserved for priests and kings, chocolate has, fortunately, become more democratic. Today, it is consumed and appreciated throughout the world for its delicious taste and health benefits. With a cocoa content of more than 80%, dark chocolate is undoubtedly the most beneficial to health. For example, it contains specific compounds that could alleviate complications in chronic kidney disease (CKD).
Dark chocolate and gut microbiota: a winning combination?
The kidneys of patients with CKD have reduced functional capacity and no longer filter blood properly. This failure leads to an accumulation of molecules such as uremic toxins1 in the blood. These patients have an unbalanced gut microbiota (dysbiosis) that may contribute to the production of these toxins. Eating cocoa may modulate the gut microbiota by promoting the colonization by bacteria with known beneficial effects (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium) in the gut. A number of studies have also shown that, by modulating the gut microbiota, the ingestion of chocolate improves the integrity of the gut barrier, decreases inflammation and reduces uremic toxins.
Dark chocolate, the white knight of your cardiovascular system
Patients with CKD have a high risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death. Several studies have shown that the regular consumption of dark chocolate has a cardioprotective effect in healthy individuals. How so? By improving blood circulation, specifically, improving functioning of the blood vessels and reducing blood pressure. This improvement also leads to a reduced risk of stroke.
Munch on chocolate to boost your mood
We tend to forget that chronic illness often has a psychological impact on the patient. Beyond the simple pleasure of taste, the regular consumption of dark chocolate also stimulates the production of serotonin (a neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of behavior), which has an antidepressant effect. Although the consumption of dark chocolate (cocoa content of more than 80%) seems an interesting therapeutic alternative for patients with CKD, its potential impact on inflammation, cardiovascular risk and the gut microbiota has not yet been studied in a prospective clinical trial. But don’t let that stop you from treating yourself to a square of chocolate!
1 In total, more than 80 molecules are considered uremic toxins, among them hormones, peptides and even organic compounds.
Fanton S, Cardozo LFMF, Combet E, Shiels PG, Stenvinkel P, Vieira IO, Narciso HR, Schmitz J, Mafra D. The sweet side of dark chocolate for chronic kidney disease patients. Clin Nutr. 2021 Jan;40(1):15-26. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2020.06.039.