Complications from advanced liver disease can be serious. However, researchers have discovered that munching on dark chocolate could prevent a serious cirrhosis complication.
To many, devouring a candy bar after a meal seems like a backwards approach toward maintaining a healthy diet. However, a recent report claims that such a practice could benefit those with advanced liver disease. Reported in April 2010 at the Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of the Liver in Vienna, Austria, researchers described their findings that dark chocolate reduced portal hypertension in patients with cirrhosis.
About Cirrhosis and Portal Hypertension
A result of long-term, continuous damage to the liver, cirrhosis is a serious condition where healthy tissue in the liver is destroyed and replaced by fibrous scar tissue. Normally, the liver has the capacity to regenerate new cells in areas that have been injured. Unfortunately, scarring that has progressed to cirrhosis is irreversible. Cirrhosis blocks the flow of blood through the liver, and can eventually lead to liver failure – the liver’s complete inability to function.
Most frequently caused by excessive alcohol consumption or a hepatitis virus, cirrhosis can lead to a variety of complications. One of the most common complications is portal hypertension. Portal hypertension is an increase in the pressure within the portal vein (the vein that carries blood from the digestive organs to the liver). Increased pressure in the portal vein frequently causes large veins (varices) to develop across the esophagus and stomach to bypass any blockage. Because varices are fragile and already under an exaggerated degree of pressure, blood vessel ruptures can easily occur. Otherwise known as bleeding varices, these cirrhosis-related blood vessel ruptures can be extremely dangerous.
About the Study
According to Spanish researchers, eating dark chocolate may prevent the threat of portal hypertension causing bleeding varices in people with cirrhosis. After eating, blood pressure in the abdominal veins usually increases due to increased blood flow to the liver. This is particularly dangerous and damaging to cirrhotic patients, as they may already have increased blood pressure in the liver (portal hypertension), which, if severe, can cause a blood vessel to rupture.
Known for its high flavonoid content, dark chocolate has been recognized as beneficial for the body – especially the heart. The flavonoids in cocoa are believed to be the reason why dark chocolate is good for blood pressure, because they help the blood vessels to relax and widen. On the other hand, white chocolate does not have any flavonoids or blood vessel-influencing properties.
In this study, participants with cirrhosis were given a liquid meal of either 85 percent-cocoa dark chocolate or white chocolate. The researchers found that those given the dark chocolate had a statistically significant smaller rise in portal hypertension than those given white chocolate. This discovery led the researchers to conclude that eating dark chocolate could ultimately prevent the threat of blood vessels rupturing in people with cirrhosis.
More About Chocolate
Good quality dark chocolate is much more than a delicious dessert. Because chocolate contains flavonoids, it contains many of the same health characteristics of darkly colored vegetables. In fact, experts believe that dark chocolate contains a very large number of flavonoids – nearly eight times the number found in strawberries.
Even though many people prefer milk chocolate or white chocolate to dark chocolate, these treats are not on equal footing. The beneficial flavonoids are specific to dark chocolate, as milk chocolate does not contain nearly the same quantity – and white chocolate has none at all. According to Mauro Serafini, Ph.D., of Italy’s National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research, the reason dark chocolate has proven to be healthier than milk chocolate, is because the milk in milk chocolate may actually interfere with the absorption of flavonoids, canceling out their positive benefits.
Those with chronic liver disease that has progressed to cirrhosis are actively seeking strategies to prevent portal hypertension. Thanks to the research recently reported at 2010’s Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of the Liver, eating a bit of dark chocolate after a meal could be a smart tactic for people with cirrhosis. The possibility that it could prevent a blood vessel rupture from portal hypertension puts dark chocolate on top of the lifestyle suggestions for managing advanced liver disease.
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