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Dark Chocolate Is Good For You – And Now We Finally Know Why!

Dark chocolate is one of the most delicious substances known to man, and it has the added benefit of being fairly good for you in moderation. A study led by Diederik Esser from Wageningen University in the Netherlands has shown that ingesting dark chocolate can actually improve vascular health. The results were published in The FASEB Journal.  After the study’s completion, participants were found to have an increased flexibility in their arteries, which is likely staving off atherosclerosis and improving blood flow. The increased level of flavanol did not have any benefit in this study; it just added an extra bitter taste to the chocolate, which made the participants not want to eat it.  Before we go any further, it needs to be made quite clear that studies referring to the benefit of dark chocolate are not talking about your average Hershey’s bar. Typical candy bars have a low cocoa percentage and much larger amounts of sugar and fat, which negate any incurred health benefit, if not actually making it worse. The chocolates with the highest cocoa mass content are typically more bitter than sweet.

The forty-four study participants were all middle-aged men who were overweight. Each day for two weeks, they were given 70 grams of chocolate. Though the percentages of cocoa were the same, one chocolate had a higher amount of flavanol, while the other was made regularly. The research team hopes that a pill could eventually be produced that targets the best parts about dark chocolate, with more consistent outcomes and less confusion about how much to ingest for the maximum benefit.Critics of the study argue that these conclusions cannot be asserted with only 44  participants. Additionally, at the onset of the experiment, the participants were instructed to avoid certain calorically-dense foods that would have caused additional weight gain. This opens the possibility that the change in diet may have impacted heart health more than the chocolate.

Nearly twenty years ago, a group of scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center published their findings that the the Allan Hills 84001 meteorite showed indications of ancient biogenic material; the paper caused quite a debate among the scientific community. The controversy has been opened once again, as a new analysis of the Yamato 000593 (Y000593) meteorite has revealed previously unknown features that might have been caused by ancient Martian life. The team was led by Lauren White from Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was published in the journal Astrobiology. The tunneling itself does not definitely prove that life once existed on Mars, but it does keep the conversation open for now. The research team admits that the tunneling could have been caused by abiotic forces or contamination from bacteria on Earth after impact, and may not have been formed by ancient Martian life millions of years ago. However, the team also states that these types of clues should not be ignored and this field of research should continue to be studied.

Y000593 was discovered in Antarctica in 2000. It has a mass of 13.7 kg (30 lbs) and came to Earth about 50,000 years ago. It is believed that the rock originated on Mars approximately 1.3 billion years ago. It is thought that a massive impact of the Martian surface dislodged the rock about 12 million years ago, and it spent over 11 million years in space until coming to Earth’s surface. This recent analysis of Y000593 revealed that deep in the center of the meteorite, two sets of tunnels exist. One layer of tunnels has spherules between layers of carbonate and silicate rock, which are very similar to the Nakhla meteorite, which was recovered shortly after its impact in 1911 in Egypt. The other set consists of textured tunnels that curve through the rock. They appear to be consistent with previously studied tunnels that are caused by bacteria in basaltic glasses on Earth. Additionally, the chemical composition of the meteorite is consistent with more aqueous conditions. As our current understanding of life requires liquid water to exist, this does seem to support the notion that ancient microbial life could have carved out the tunnels in the rocks and that Mars used to be incredibly dynamic. While analysis of samples from the Martian surface done by rovers have been great, scientists on Earth will need to examine actual samples from Mars in person to better understand the complexities of the Red Planet’s past.

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