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Chocolate and wine makes your gut feel fine, new study reveals

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Have you ever felt guilty for that Monday night spent gorging on chocolate and a glass (or two) of red?

Well turn that frown upside down, because scientists have made significant discoveries in understanding the microbes in our guts and how they can change our lives – and red wine and chocolate might be exactly what they’re after.

As a rule, the more diverse the microbiomes – the bacteria in our stomach - are, the healthier our guts are likely to be. This bacteria can produce vitamins, reduce the likelihood of obesity and help fend-off certain diseases.

In two studies published in Science (study one; study two), researchers from the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology have released results that are said to be the most comprehensive research on human microbiomes to date. 

Their findings suggest that eating and drinking wine, chocolate and even coffee, might diversify the gut bacteria and thus be good for your health.

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"The more diverse the microbiomes, the healthier our guts are likely to be."

The researchers collected stool samples from 3,500 volunteers, and have analysed 1,100 of them in order to ascertain how diet affects the bacteria in the gut.

They then compared their findings to a Dutch database and found that the microbiomes of each volunteer were reflective of local diets – with the Belgians having microbes associated with beer and chocolate, and the Dutch, to a milk-heavy diet.

“We were very excited to see that, because that's a very important dietary distinction — we like our chocolate. They like their milk,” says Jeroen Raes, who led the first study.

“Maybe from an American perspective, Belgium and Holland are very close,” Raes tells The Washington Post, “It’s true in terms of geographic distance, but genetically these groups are quite different, and diet habits are quite different as well.”

The studies found the dietary differentiation between Belgium and Holland to have a significant effect: while some dairy products – like yoghurt – increased the diversity of species in the gut, full-fat products tended to decrease that diversity.

Red wine and chocolate were seen to increase the biodiversity of the gut, while high-calorie, carb-heavy diets had the opposite effect.

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Keep it coming - red wine is thought to have a positive effect on the gut

“In total we found 60 dietary factors that influence the diversity,” says Alexandra Zhernakova of the University Medical Center Groningen, the first author of the Science article, and “there is a good correlation between diversity and health: greater diversity is better.”

The study also found that some medications had an effect on gut microbe diversity – including antibiotics, laxities, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory drugs and hormones -which all appeared to stifle bacterial diversity.

Although we still don’t know what the perfect microbiome is, or what we can do to get it, scientists hope that these results will bring us one step closer to finding out – and that we can use the microbes to diagnose and treat diseases of the gut.

Although for now, Raes is keen to press these are just associations, he says that it has opened up a whole new set of questions, and that “the best science gives more questions than answers.”

And while the variation from gut to gut is largely unexplained and may be as a result of lifestyle choices and genetics, he hopes that the results of the two studies can be applicable to other European countries and to America, as well.

Either way, we see this as hugely positive information. We’ve always had a gut feeling that a diet of chocolate and wine was the way forward...

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