Cocoa: A benefactor for intestinal flora and sleep


Why cocoa is more than just a luxury food

Cocoa is often only perceived as an ingredient in sweet treats. But recent studies reveal fascinating facts about this superfood: It's not only good for our mood, but also for our gut microbiome and even our sleep. In this blog we take a look at why cocoa should play a role in our diet that goes beyond pure enjoyment.

Cocoa and the intestinal microbiome: A sweet symbiosis

Researchers have discovered that cocoa can have a positive impact on our gut microbiome (1). A recent study found that consuming cocoa high in flavonoids not only improves mood but also increases diversity in the gut microbiome. In particular, the amount of the bacterium Blautia obeum was increased and that of Faecalibacterium prausnitzii was reduced, suggesting health benefits (2).

Why is that important? A diverse gut flora has been linked to a healthier immune system, improved brain function, and even a lower risk of certain diseases. Cocoa appears to have a prebiotic effect (3), meaning it promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms called probiotics in the intestines.


Cocoa and the secret of a good mood

Cocoa has more to offer than just its delicious taste. In fact, it contains an impressive array of substances that can have positive effects on our mood. Some of these compounds include phenylethylamine, anandamide, tryptophan and theobromine.

Phenylethylamine , often called the "love chemical," is released into our bodies when we fall in love. Although cacao only contains small amounts, the joy we feel when consuming cacao could certainly make us feel in love.

Anandamide , sometimes called “good luck charm,” has euphoric properties. It interacts with the same brain receptors as cannabis, creating a feeling of lightness, joy and balance.

Tryptophan is an important building block for serotonin, which is often referred to as the “feel-good hormone”. A balanced level of serotonin is crucial for our emotional well-being, as a deficiency can lead to depression. Interestingly, serotonin is also a precursor to the sleep hormone melatonin.

Theobromine , another component of cocoa, stimulates our central nervous system and promotes blood circulation. It is also believed to help improve mood.

In addition, cocoa is a treasure trove of numerous health-promoting ingredients. Cocoa is claimed to contain up to 66 different compounds that can protect the cardiovascular system. Various mechanisms through which cocoa influences our mood are still being researched (4), but interaction with healthy intestinal flora may play a central role.

Cocoa for better sleep: dessert that helps you sleep better?

What is less known is the influence of cocoa on our sleep. Although more research is needed, there is evidence that the antioxidants in cocoa, particularly the flavonoids, may play a role in regulating sleep-wake cycles. They could contribute to the production of melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” potentially leading to better, more restful sleep.

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Lykaia forest cocoa

The conclusion: A spoonful of cocoa for health

Cocoa is more than just the base for our favorite chocolate. It is a complex food with a range of health benefits that go far beyond its delicious taste. Whether for promoting a healthy gut microbiome , improving mood, or possibly even supporting good sleep, cacao deserves to be part of our diet. But as with everything, moderation is key.

This article was written by Dr. Maren Kemper . She is particularly fascinated by the scientific connections between our skin, our sleep, our immune system and also our psyche. She founded within supplements GmbH to best support our microbiome and thus address health problems from the inside out.

Dr. Maren Kemper Within Supplements


(1) Cocoa Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota Interplay: Bioavailability, Prebiotic Effect, and Impact on Human Health

(2) Consumption of 85% cocoa dark chocolate improves mood in association with gut microbial changes in healthy adults: a randomized controlled trial

(3) Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa-derived flavanols in healthy humans by using a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study

(4) Mechanisms by which cocoa flavanols improve metabolic syndrome and related disorders