Dark Chocolate Protects from Complications of Liver Cirrhosis

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Researchers have discovered that a dose of dark chocolate daily could protect patients from complications associated with cirrhosis of the liver. Liver cirrhosis increases the risk of bleeding from too much pressure in the veins that supply the organ with nutrients. Dark chocolate could protect from rupture of blood vessels that occurs from portal hypertension (high blood pressure in the liver).

Liver disease that causes cirrhosis leads to scarring. Cirrhosis can occur from complications of toxins such as heavy metals, certain medication, excessive alcohol intake, viruses, and autoimmune diseases. When liver cells die from inflammation they are replaced with scar tissue, known as liver nodules. Scar tissue blocks normal blood flow, raising blood pressure in the portal veins that supply the liver, and eventually in the esophagus and stomach. The result is increased risk of bleeding from blood vessel rupture. Dark chocolate is shown to decrease portal hypertension, reducing the chances of cirrhosis of the liver complications that can lead to death.

Professor Mark Thursz, MD FRCP, Vice Secretary of EASL and Professor of Hepatology, at Imperial College London said: "As well as advanced technologies and high science, it is important to explore the potential of alternative sources which can contribute to the overall wellbeing of a patient. This study shows a clear association between eating dark chocolate and portal hypertension and demonstrates the potential importance of improvements in the management of cirrhotic patients, to minimize the onset and impact of end stage liver disease and its associated mortality risks".

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Besides lowering pressure in the blood vessels that supply the liver, dark chocolate might also have other beneficial effects on the body that can help patients with cirrhosis of the liver. Dark chocolate is known for its health benefits from potent antioxidants, and has been shown to improve overall health of blood vessels.

For the study, 21 patients received either a liquid diet or a diet with 85 percent cocoa, and .55g of dark chocolate per kilogram of body weight. To determine the benefits of dark chocolate, eleven patients were given white chocolate that lacks antioxidants. Thirty minutes after eating a meal researchers measured blood flow, indicators of portal hypertension, and arterial blood pressure.

The results of the study showed that dark chocolate significantly lowered pressure in the blood vessels that supply the liver. Study participants given white chocolate did not show the same benefits. The study shows that eating dark chocolate could offer a natural option for patients with cirrhosis of the liver that can help prevent fatal complications of the disease.

European Association for the Study of the Liver

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