First Do No Harm

Wine & Chocolate
(Sounds like the perfect date!)

We’ve talked about both of these subjects, often listing their benefits, but in our latest discussion on chocolate, I left something out in order to do a bit more research. Yes, we've talked about how chocolate modifies mood and contains a prebiotic, but there’s a bit more to the subject of mood and probiotics, and interestingly enough, wine gives us nearly the same benefits.

In January of this year, the Journal of Nutrition published a study that should come to no surprise to our readers, since we’ve been discussing (in our newsletter) flavonoids, anthocyanins, and adiponectin, and insulin since early 2013. Just recently we’ve discussed probiotics and prebiotics (things that feed your probiotics).

Now, we’re going to put it all together and we’ll need a nice red wine and a few bars of dark chocolate. Sit back….and enjoy.

BUT FIRST

We have to define a few things.

Serotonin: A neurotransmitter (transmit signals across a synapse from one brain [neuron] cell to another targeted neuron) that is created mostly in the gut and metabolized by the liver, and is responsible for mood changes. It is biochemically derived from the amino acid tryptophan.

Dopamine: Both a hormone and a neurotransmitter that affects a few very important brain systems involved in reward motivated behavior. A drug addiction results in a dopamine addiction, in that the drug stimulates the release of dopamine. One disorder caused by a deficiency in dopamine (or the release of dopamine) is Parkinson's disease.

Endorphin: The word is derived from two Greek words, "endo" and "orphin," short forms of the terms "endogenous" (meaning it has an internal cause or origin) and "morphine." Thus we have a morphine like substance released by the body.

There is an internet meme that goes like this: "Technically serotonin and dopamine are the only two things you really enjoy."

This is cute, but only someone who believes the human animal is simply a mass of biochemical/bioelectrical interactions would accept this as "all there is to enjoyment." An holistic view of human life goes much deeper than our biochemical life.

But we do have to admit that when these chemical/electrical reactions and interactions occur, we do feel good.

Dopamine is probably the easiest one of the above chemicals to stimulate the body to produce: A work of art, a pretty sunset, your favorite TV program, a good joke, and even just a "taste" of beer can release dopamine

So, as you can see, one starting point of our Wine & Chocolate (and beer) theme is the release of dopamine. However, it should be noted that while dark chocolate will release dopamine, it is white chocolate (cacao butter) that stimulates the release of the most dopamine. And in a lot of dark chocolate recipes there is a bit of cacao butter.

Wine and beer both release dopamine. As far as serotonin goes, wine wins out over beer, but it is chocolate that is the real winner in this corner.

Raw Cacao

 

Chocolate contains serotonin. Yes, it does. [Dark Chocolate & Serotonin Levels] Chocolate also contains L-Tryptophan, a serotonin precursor (something that comes before something else).

Both dark chocolate and wine contain resveratrol, an amazing phytochemical that is responsible for the French Paradox (to a good degree).

But did you know that both wine and chocolate also affect our serotonin levels in a number of ways?

This is why I am telling you about this. It’s amazing, truly amazing, how science has suddenly discovered (or proven) exactly what lovers have known for years: Wine and Chocolate bring lovers "happily" together.

Eating dark chocolate (even light, milk chocolate) boosts endorphins in the brain (it’s the sugar in the milk chocolate responsible for this), and when that happens, serotonin (the brain's own "happy chemical") levels are also boosted and dopamine is released, though dark chocolate can do this all on its own. Wine makes us happy too, and that’s because of the endorphins released and serotonin levels are boosted, as well as the release of dopamine. [Chocolate and Mood Disorders]

The article referenced above brought up an interesting point: don’t wash down your dark chocolate with milk, as the milk will negate a lot of the good stuff in the chocolate. Again, science recommends a glass of wine.

A recent study (joint study carried out by scientists at Istanbul Technical University in Turkey and scientists at Royal Holloway University in London), sponsored in part by Nestles, added probiotics to dark chocolate, in effect creating a "synbiotic."

If you look this word up, you will find only one location on the web where it is defined, and that is Wikipedia’s dictionary, or Wiktionary.

A synbiotic is something that is both a probiotic and a prebiotic. In other words, it both supplies good bacteria while supplying the food to feed that good bacteria.

Getting the good bacteria is one thing, but caring for it, feeding it, is another.

And again, this is where Wine and Chocolate are doing the same job. A recent study showed that people who drank two glasses of "red" wine (the dry kind, not some sugary kind) per day had fewer pathogenic bacteria and better, more abundant good bacteria in their guts. The study also showed that red wine was a prebiotic too, feeding the good bacteria.

Back to beer (for all you beer lovers). Normally, most beers will actually help deplete your good bacteria because the alcohol is deadly to bacteria. Wine has an alcohol content too, but it is a more balanced drink in that the phytochemicals are caring for your bacteria. It's a balancing act.

In order to make your beer more caring for you bacteria, you must choose a "cloudy" beer. Many home brews are cloudy. Some microbrews are cloudy. Your dark beers can be cloudy. I know of one in particular called Blue Moon. These are unfiltered beers. They will actually care for your good bacteria.

Good bacteria help overall health; they’re good for your skin, your heart, your digestion, your inflammation, your triglycerides, blood pressure…the list goes on.

Oh, and one more thing: the good bacteria that the wine (and beer) cared for are producing serotonin. For as we have pointed out at this site, time and time again, upwards of 80% of your serotonin comes from your gut.

And chocolate, dark chocolate, feeds those same bacteria.

We should step aside here and tell you that Concord Grape Juice also contains much of the same chemicals (phenolic compounds, resveratrol, etc) that red wine contains. A glass a day of Concord Grape Juice is just as cardioprotective as wine, though the study did show that de-alcoholized wine did not produce the same blood pressure benefits as regular wine. But then, Concord Grape Juice is not "de-alcoholized" wine.

Now for our finale: remember that study above we mentioned first published in the Journal of Nutrition? Well, get this.

The study concluded that drinking wine with a meal (even though alcohol is very much related to sugar) actually keeps your insulin from spiking after a meal by regulating sugar levels in your bloodstream while increasing our sensitivity to insulin and leptin. Something that we already know dark chocolate does too.

The only thing you have to worry about is over-doing it with either or both. Too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing at all. And if you can keep this in moderation, together these two things can also help you to maintain a healthy weight.

So, let’s sum it all up.

Both Chocolate and Red Wine:

  • Provide antioxidants (resveratrol)
  • Lower our blood pressure
  • Increase our sensitivity to insulin/leptin
  • Release dopamine
  • Release endorphins
  • Release serotonin
  • Feed our good bacteria that, besides maintaining our overall health, create our serotonin
  • And they help keep our blood sugar under control (thus preventing diabetes)

Further Reading

Is dopamine behind the health benefits of red wine?

Alcohol and Dopamine

Chocolate and Dopamine

Endorphin Theory of Love

 


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