Chocolate + Probiotics

Chocolate + Probiotics

Chocolate Covered Probiotics… Yes Please!

Chocolate covered almonds, chocolate covered raisins, chocolate dipped strawberries, and now chocolate spiked probiotics?

Probiotics have started showing up in chocolate. You may wonder whether probiotics in chocolate are a ploy designed to get us to eat more chocolate or more probiotics or both, but there may be more to this new trend.

Chocolate has long been known to improve mood, and there are many reasons why. It could be socio-cultural. For example, often we are rewarded with chocolate as children. (Read a book, get some chocolate candy. Sit still, get a piece of chocolate.) Thus, it’s possible that chocolate simply symbolizes reward for us – and we are like Pavlov’s dogs. When we eat chocolate, we’ve been conditioned to feel that reward high. Research has shown us for decades that chocolate is one of the most craved foods.1 One study showed that 40% of women and 15% of men crave chocolate; and another showed that 84% of women and 53% of men crave chocolate.1-2 Not only do women crave chocolate more, the intensity of their cravings are also stronger.2 Furthermore, women also experienced “anticipation of positive reinforcement” with chocolate.

Salsolinol, Polyphenols, + Flavanols…What does this have to do with Chocolate?

We now know that chocolate contains salsolinol which is dopaminergic and binds to two different dopamine receptors, D2 and D3.3 Interestingly, D3 is associated with reward… and drug addiction.4 Is this why we are addicted to chocolate and we feel a reward when we get it?

If we have to be addicted to something, it may as well be chocolate. There are many ingredients in chocolate that are good for us. For example, we know that cocoa is loaded with manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and zinc as well as polyphenols such as quercetin.5 Is it that we crave these nutrients because our bodies need them? That’s highly unlikely, according to some researchers. They point out that humans are “notoriously poor” at finding and eating foods that are good for them.6 It’s far more likely that we are pleasure seeking when we ingest chocolate.

Nevertheless, the ingredients in chocolate have positive benefit on our health. The flavanols in chocolate have been shown to increase cerebral blood flow which means it may be neuroprotective.7 Cocoa has been shown to improve blood pressure.8 Moreover, cocoa is antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, suggesting that chocolate will improve health outcomes in a variety of ailments.9

Dark chocolate consumption is associated with less depression, and that certainly improves mood. A national survey demonstrated that people who consume dark chocolate daily have significantly lower odds of having depressive symptoms.10 In fact, people who ate the most chocolate had 57% less depressive symptoms than those who don’t consume chocolate.10

If chocolate on its own is so good for our mood, why add probiotics?

Probiotics have also been shown to improve depression symptoms. A meta-analysis suggests that probiotics, but not prebiotics, can reduce symptoms of depression The effects in this study were minimal, but that may be due to the diversity of studies included in the analysis.11 Individual studies have shown more promise than the systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Most of the clinical trials in this meta-analysis included used Lactobacillus combined with Bifidobacterium.11 It’s possible that other combinations, doses, and/or length of administration would increase the effects of probiotics on depression.

Could chocolate and probiotics work together?

A group of researchers from Korea were interested in mood disorders, and the observation that cocoa and probiotics have been shown to improve mood, and wondered if the two could work together.12 The polyphenols in chocolate function as a prebiotic and help keep the probiotics alive.13 And they aren’t the only ones to examine this combination. Other researchers have examined the ability of chocolate to keep probiotics alive during delivery.14 We are awaiting the research to determine whether the combination of chocolate and probiotics is more effective at improving depression than either one alone.

If chocolate can affect probiotics, it follows that it may also affect the microbiome. Chocolate has been shown to increase the growth of our commensal healthy microbes such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, and decrease the growth of microbes that can be pathogenic, such as Clostridium.15 Chocolate and bacteria seem to have a healthy microbiome-related relationship, and for all of our sake, a delicious future together.

Learn more


  1. Rozin P, Levine E, Stoess C. Chocolate craving and liking. Appetite. 1991;17(3):199-212. doi:10.1016/0195-6663(91)90022-k
  2. Hormes JM, Orloff NC, Timko CA. Chocolate craving and disordered eating. Beyond the gender divide? Appetite. 2014;83:185-193. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2014.08.018
  3. Melzig MF, Putscher I, Henklein P, Haber H. In vitro pharmacological activity of the tetrahydroisoquinoline salsolinol present in products from Theobroma cacao L. like cocoa and chocolate. J Ethnopharmacol. 2000;73(1):153-159. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(00)00291-9
  4. Sokoloff P, Le Foll B, Perachon S, Bordet R, Ridray S, Schwartz JC. The dopamine D3 receptor and drug addiction. Neurotox Res. 2001;3(5):433-441. doi:10.1007/BF03033202
  5. Lamuela-Raventós RM, Andrés-Lacueva C, Permanyer J, Izquierdo-Pulido M. More Antioxidants in Cocoa. J Nutr. 2001;131(3):834. doi:10.1093/jn/131.3.834
  6. Smith DF. Benefits of flavanol-rich cocoa-derived products for mental well-being: A review. J Funct Foods. 2013;5(1):10-15. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2012.09.002
  7. Francis ST, Head K, Morris PG, Macdonald IA. The effect of flavanol-rich cocoa on the fMRI response to a cognitive task in healthy young people. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2006;47 Suppl 2:S215-220. doi:10.1097/00005344-200606001-00018
  8. Grassi D, Desideri G, Necozione S, et al. Cocoa consumption dose-dependently improves flow-mediated dilation and arterial stiffness decreasing blood pressure in healthy individuals. J Hypertens. 2015;33(2):294-303. doi:10.1097/HJH.0000000000000412
  9. Serafini M, Peluso I. Functional Foods for Health: The Interrelated Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Role of Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs, Spices and Cocoa in Humans. Curr Pharm Des. 2016;22(44):6701-6715. doi:10.2174/1381612823666161123094235
  10. Jackson SE, Smith L, Firth J, et al. Is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression? A cross-sectional survey of 13,626 US adults. Depress Anxiety. 2019;36(10):987-995. doi:10.1002/da.22950
  11. Liu RT, Walsh RFL, Sheehan AE. Prebiotics and probiotics for depression and anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019;102:13-23. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.03.023
  12. Lim J hoon, Yoon S min, Tan PL, Yang S, Kim S hun, Park H jin. Probiotic Properties of Lactobacillus Plantarum LRCC5193, a Plant-Origin Lactic Acid Bacterium Isolated from Kimchi and Its Use in Chocolates. J Food Sci. 2018;83(11):2802-2811. doi:10.1111/1750-3841.14364
  13. Shin JH, Kim CS, Cha L, et al. Consumption of 85% cocoa dark chocolate improves mood in association with gut microbial changes in healthy adults: a randomized controlled trial. J Nutr Biochem. 2022;99:108854. doi:10.1016/j.jnutbio.2021.108854
  14. Hossain MN, Ranadheera CS, Fang Z, Ajlouni S. Impact of encapsulating probiotics with cocoa powder on the viability of probiotics during chocolate processing, storage, and in vitro gastrointestinal digestion. J Food Sci. 2021;86(5):1629-1641. doi:10.1111/1750-3841.15695
  15. Sorrenti V, Ali S, Mancin L, Davinelli S, Paoli A, Scapagnini G. Cocoa Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota Interplay: Bioavailability, Prebiotic Effect, and Impact on Human Health. Nutrients. 2020;12(7):E1908. doi:10.3390/nu12071908