Tag Archives: Diabetes

Why Dark Chocolate?


       Photo by Steve Miller on February 1, 2015

Ashton Harris

Love is in the air.

With Valentines Day quickly approaching, I find myself surrounded by an abundance of red roses, cheesy greeting cards, and ginormous teddy bears (honestly, who buys those anyways?) But probably the most characteristic component of Valentine’s Day is the isles upon isles of chocolate in your local grocery store.

While walking through one of the multiple isles solely composed of chocolate, I find myself going through the same thought process every year.

“Is this chocolate going to make me gain weight?”

“Is chocolate really THAT bad for you?”

“Check the nutrition facts. How many calories are even in this?”

This overanalyzation of nutrition facts during a universal holiday can be related to today’s fascination with health and wellness. Think about it, how many people do you know that own a personal fitness device? How many constantly check to see the number of steps they have reached or how many stairs they have climbed?

Sure, one could argue that this may have to do with an interest in technological advancements, but if that is true, wouldn’t nearly everyone own a hoverboard?

Here’s the thing, unlike the hoverboard craze, nutrition does not “attach” itself to any age group. Instead, nutrition is universal. You could see a sixteen year old and a seventy-year-old American citizen both wearing the same FitBit, performing the same function. With this in mind, if any food, especially if it is as satisfying as dark chocolate, is claimed as “healthy,” chances are everyone will be talking about this sooner than later. And in fact, that has been the case with dark chocolate.

The health benefits of dark chocolate are all rooted in a high concentration of cacao in comparison to other forms of chocolate. In lay mans terms, the higher the percentage of cacao, the more natural the chocolate.

Cacao originates from the cacao fruit tree, also know as the Theobroma Cacao. This certain tree produces cacao pods. When these pods are split open, hundreds of cacao beans pour out. Overall, the cacao beans are at the root of every dark chocolate recipe. Whether the beans are turned into a paste or a powder, the taste and texture of these products will resemble dark chocolate.


     Cacao pods on Theobroma Cacao; Minipedia

On the other hand, when milk chocolate is made, cacao is manipulated structurally and chemically in order to create a higher percentage of cocoa, which is probably the more familiar form of chocolate. When cocoa is made, cacao undergoes a heating process, which breaks the bonds within the substance in order to alter the shape to produce cocoa.

Milk chocolate, the most popular form of chocolate, is not only heated but also processed with an alkalized solution in order to change the overall taste; the chocolate becomes much less acidic and much richer in taste.

Overall, if you are really craving dark chocolate, the only place you need to look is on the branches of a Theobroma Cacao tree. But you might have to wait a few hours for you milk chocolate to be heated and alkalized. Sounds delicious, right?

So is it true that the more natural the chocolate, the “healthier” it is?

The main factor that would explain this statement is the presence of flavonoids and antioxidants in dark chocolate; the high cocoa content in dark chocolate results in high levels of flavonoids and antioxidants.

Flavonoids function to reduce platelet activation and create a cardiovascular mechanism called the French Paradox, which means that a population has a low rate of cardiorespiratory complications with a high sugar diet.

On the other hand, antioxidants slow down or prevent the oxidation of other molecules within the body. When molecules in the body oxidize, they create cellular by-products, called free radicals, which are highly unstable. In order to gain stability, free radicals attack healthy cells. This then causes healthy, or normal, cells to act in a very similar way by attacking others in an attempt to gain stability.

Overall, both flavonoids and antioxidants should lead to an improved and efficient physiological system in the human body.

In regards to flavonoid function, the Association of Operating Room Nurses performed a study in 2003 to prove the assumption that the flavonoids in dark chocolate result in improved vascular function. In this experiment, participants’ blood was tested before and after consumption of a variety of chocolate, including white, dark, and milk chocolate. The results of the study evidenced that white chocolate did not reduce platelet activity while milk chocolate slightly reduced platelet activity, but did not reduce platelet production. On the other hand, after the consumption of dark chocolate, the participants’ blood showed reduced platelet production and activity.

In summary, white and milk chocolate artificially produce platelets, which can lead to unnecessary blood clots, such as those in the arteries of the heart. However, since dark chocolate limits platelet production, the formation of unnecessary blood clots is greatly reduced, therefore improving the cardiovascular system.

On the other hand, Louisiana State University professor, John Finely, performed an experiment in 2014 to demonstrate the idea that the presence of antioxidants in dark chocolate benefits the physiology of the human body. In this experiment, his students recreated an artificial human digestive system in order to visually observe the effects of cacao.

The human digestive system contains a variety of micro-bacteria that aid in digestion by breaking down food particles. When food is broken down, energy is created so that the body may perform certain processes that require energy.

Initially, Finely explains that the micro-bacteria in our digestive tract ferments the antioxidants in cacao, therefore allowing the bacteria to properly create energy, without the interference of free radicals. Before conducting this experiment, Finely was aware that the composition of bacteria varies in each individuals’ digestive tract, so some results could be more beneficial than others.

After observing the effects of cacao on the digestive system, Finley noticed that the digestive tracts exposed to cacao expressed an increase in insulin sensitivity.

In regards to a background on insulin, this hormone is used to signal liver cells to absorb sugars, such as glucose, in order to decrease blood sugar levels. When one is diabetic, he or she has trouble producing insulin, so blood sugar levels are relatively high.


   Diagram explaining how insulin stimulates cells to intake  sugar; Pearson Biology

But what does “insulin sensitivity” mean?

Insulin sensitivity has to do with how well a body responds to insulin. Those that are highly insulin sensitive require very little insulin to store sugar. On the other hand, those that have low insulin sensitivity, typically diabetics, require greater amounts of insulin for cells to intake certain sugars.

Finley’s observations portrayed the relationship between high insulin sensitivity and cacao, which means that the ingestion of cacao could then result in a delay or prevention of being diagnosed with diabetes. Overall, the ability of cells to readily absorb sugar can be related to the high levels of antioxidants in cacao, which reduce the presence of free radicals.

However, though dark chocolate proves to benefit the physiology of the human body, it is important to enforce proper portion control.

For instance, too many flavonoids could result in a complete absence of platelets. This means that when your body requires the formation of blood clots, such as a scab on a small cut, the platelets will not be available to the affected area.

On the other hand, too many antioxidants can result in the disappearance of free radical cells. At first, this may seem to be a good quality for the body to possess. However, free radicals force the body’s immune system to adjust to and fight against these foreign invaders; this can therefore speed up the immune system response the next time it is introduced to a certain free radical cell.

In conclusion, when you are at Walmart on Valentine’s Day, go for it! Splurge and buy some dark chocolate, now knowing the benefits that tag along!

But always remember, too much of a good thing CAN be bad for you.

Why Have A Pancreas?

Why Have A Pancreas?

Ellen Davis

The Past

It was the summer and Susan just got back from sleep away camp. Camp was a weird experience for her this year. She felt thirsty all the time and didn’t have the energy to participate in her favorite activities. She came home and it was noted that Susan lost 13 pounds while at summer camp! She was taken to the doctor and was promptly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at 12 years old.

It has been two years since Susan was diagnosed with Type 1. At first, I couldn’t believe it was true. But now after much time has passed, I understand that diabetes is not as rare as I thought. It is said that around 80 people per day are diagnosed with Type 1.

With numbers only growing, when will modern technology take the next big step in bettering the lives of diabetics?

The Present

Hormones have more control over your body than you think. This is especially apparent when it comes to diabetics, who have botched hormones. Diabetics do not have two of the most important hormones, insulin and glucagon. These hormones keep your blood-glucose level at a set point.

Insulin is a hormone that allows glucose to enter cells and thereby decreases your blood sugar. This may seem negligible, but because of this function you can eat a dozen donuts without having blurred vision or numbness in your appendages.

Glucagon is a hormone that lets glucose leave the cell and thereby increases your blood sugar. This function is also vital because it gives you the ability to skip breakfast without passing out or falling into a coma.

Due to these hormonal challenges, diabetics must implement different treatments in order to live relatively normal lives. One of the newest treatments is the artificial pancreas (AP). The artificial pancreas is a bit of a misnomer. When you think artificial, you may picture a pancreas made up of actual human tissues; however, this artificial pancreas is completely mechanical.

According to the FDA, the artificial pancreas is composed of a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), an insulin pump, and a computer algorithm. The CGM and insulin pump are two devices that are commonly used to treat diabetes today.

The CGM continuously monitors a diabetic’s glucose level, while the insulin pump delivers the hormone insulin to the diabetic’s body. A diabetic will typically use a CGM to identify blood-sugar level. Based on the blood-sugar level, the diabetic will complete calculations to determine appropriate insulin dosage. Finally, the diabetic will press buttons on the insulin pump to deliver the insulin.

The artificial pancreas is different in that it combines both of these functions. According to the FDA article, an AP combines the CGM and pump together with an algorithm. This algorithm collects data from the CGM, then decides insulin dosage, and finally commands the insulin pump to deliver a correct insulin dosage. Thus, as the Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics article postulated, the AP “closes the loop” and creates a mechanical pancreas that can operate without human help.

Currently there are a handful of algorithm variations. The top algorithms appear to be Model Predictive Control (MPC) and Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID). These algorithms work differently and result in different levels of success.

Based on a paper in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, it is understood that MPC is a model-based algorithm. Past and current blood-sugar-level data helps form this model, and from that model future insulin dosage can be predicted.

Because model-based algorithms become personalized to your body the longer you use them, they are generally a better product. In comparison, PID algorithms only predict insulin dosage based on current data.

While the model algorithm may seem like the best option, clinical trials of a variety of algorithms have occurred and all have boasted hopeful results. One study, called the “Safety auxiliary feedback element for the artificial pancreas in type 1 diabetes,” used a PID algorithm. The study was done on 10 virtual patients and its main focus was to test a safety auxiliary feedback element (SAFE).

SAFE is a system that ensures correct amount of insulin dosages are given. If an incorrect amount of insulin is given, this could lead to a hypoglycemic episode, which can result in a coma or death. While the study centers around SAFE, the study did use the PID algorithm and gave promising results. The number of hypoglycemic episodes was constrained and the length of these episodes was decreased by more than 50%.

Another study, “Clinical evaluation of an automated artificial pancreas using zone-model predictive control and health monitoring system,” used a model algorithm. The study included 12 patients with Type 1 Diabetes and it lasted 24 hours. The study also included some real life situations, like unannounced meals and exercise. The algorithm kept the blood glucose level between 70 and 180 for 80% of the study. However, after mealtime the blood glucose stayed in this range less than 70% of the time.

While improvement is clearly needed for implementation in real life, these results are optimistic. The artificial pancreas is the next big step.

The Future

While progress is being made, the “real world” is much different than the controlled bubble in which most of these artificial pancreas studies have been conducted. To truly improve the quality of life of diabetics, the artificial pancreas must handle unpredictable eating, exercise, and stress.

Susan’s current insulin and glucose regimen was not adequate in dealing with the influence exercise has over her blood sugar. Exercise caused her blood glucose levels to become unpredictable; they would descend from a high of 300 to a low of 70. These sporadic highs and lows were not ideal for team sports, which are only successful if everyone is pulling his or her weight. So, club soccer, which Susan had played for the last 7 years, disappeared from her life.

This story may seem a bit depressing, however my family is hopeful. The AP is currently undergoing outpatient studies. This means the AP is finally being tested in real life environments. One day, the AP may withstand the challenges of daily life and this could lead to Susan joining a team sport again.



Caudal, Arianne, Matt Mulroy, Wesley Wagers, Eran Atlas, and Eyal Dassau. “Closing the Loop.” Mary Ann Liebert. Mary Ann Liebert, 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Jan. 2016. http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/dia.2015.1504

Teixeira, Rodrigo E., and Stephens Malin. “The Next Generation of Artificial Pancreas Control Algorithms.” NCBI. National Center for Biotechnology Information, Jan. 2008. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769707/

“What Is the Pancreas? What Is an Artificial Pancreas Device System?” FDA U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, n.d. Web. http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/HomeHealthandConsumer/ConsumerProducts/ArtificialPancreas/ucm259548.htm