Address Fatty Liver Disease with Cocoa

New findings from Penn State University researchers report cocoa powder can reduce severity of liver disease in mice, believe findings may have implications for people.

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If you’re familiar with Clean Eating’s views on cocoa, you know we’re big fans of the stuff. And it seems the lead researcher behind this Penn State University study, Professor of Food Science Joshua Lambert, agrees. Cocoa powder, most commonly used to make chocolate, is full of fiber, iron and phytochemicals linked to healthful benefits. In a novel study, Lambert and his team found that dietary supplementation of cocoa powder had a positive effect on fatty liver disease.

The Study: A Closer Look

The study involved high-fat-fed mice, which have been proven to be accurate models of obesity in humans. Non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease is strongly associated with obesity. For eight weeks, these mice were fed a diet supplemented with 80 mg of cocoa powder per gram of normal food. Throughout the study, the scientists monitored changes in fatty liver disease, markers of oxidative stress, antioxidant response and cell damage. Notably, the study was conducted using commercially available cocoa products at a physiologically achievable dose. This means that the experiment can be duplicated fairly easily in humans.

What Were the Findings?

Findings were published in the Journal of Nutritional BiochemistryResearchers reported that cocoa-treated mice gained weight at a 21% lower rate than the control group of high-fat-fed mice not given cocoa. Cocoa-treated mice also had lighter spleen weights, is an indicator of lower inflammation. Plus, the cocoa-fed mice had:

  • 28% less fat in their livers
  • 56% lower levels of oxidative stress
  • 75% lower levels of DNA damage in the liver 

What Does This Mean for Us?

While the mechanisms of cocoa’s health benefits in the body aren’t well understood, lead researcher Lambert has a theory. The study shows that extracts and chemicals from the cocoa powder could inhibit enzymes that digest dietary fat and carbs. Meaning, the cocoa compounds prevent digestion of dietary fat. Instead of being absorbed, the fat then simply passes through the digestive system. Lambert hypothesizes similar results may be seen in human trials.

The researchers aren’t suggesting you drink five cups of cocoa — the human equivalent to the amount used in the study — in your daily routine. Most cocoa-based snacks also contain high amounts of added sugar, which can wreak havoc on your health. However, the researchers do suggest substituting low-calorie cocoa in place of high-calorie snack foods. 

For optimal results, researchers suggest combining cocoa supplementation with a healthy overall diet and more physical activity.

We’ve made it easy to get your fill of cocoa with the following collection of some of our favorite cocoa-based Clean Eating creations. Note that while we exclusively use healthful, wholesome ingredients, we strongly recommend consuming sweet treats in healthy moderation:


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