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Dark chocolate offers help for cirrhosis

Dark chocolate offers help for cirrhosis patients
Research has shown that the antioxidants present in dark chocolate slow the progression of cirrhosis of the liver.

The study recruited people with end-stage liver disease and it was presented at the International Liver Congress in Vienna in April 2010.  Half of the patients were given a daily liquid meal containing dark chocolate and the other half were offered a liquid meal of white chocolate.  The participants receiving dark chocolate had a lower increase in post-meal portal blood pressure than those receiving white chocolate.

The scientists believe the antioxidants present in dark chocolate help to minimise damage to the blood vessels of cirrhosis patients, and in that way help to reduce high blood pressure.   White chocolate did not have any benefits because it doesn’t contain antioxidants.  The authors of the study concluded that there is “a clear association between eating dark chocolate and portal hypertension”.

Dark chocolate is high in cocoa solids and the higher the content of cocoa solids, the more antioxidants are present.  Therefore chocolate comprising 70 percent cocoa and above is the healthiest choice.  Milk chocolate contains a much lower percentage of cocoa solids (typically between 21 and 32 percent).  White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids; therefore none of the antioxidants present in cocoa beans are present in white chocolate.  There is debate over whether it should even be called chocolate.  The antioxidants in dark chocolate help to keep the inner lining of your blood vessels healthy.  Damage to the lining of blood vessels increases the risk of high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks.

People with cirrhosis of the liver have high blood pressure in the portal vein and its branches.  This is called portal hypertension.  The portal vein travels from the intestines to the liver.  Blood cannot flow through a cirrhotic liver properly because it is filled with scar tissue.  Therefore blood builds up in the veins of the liver and this increases the blood pressure in these veins.  Patients with portal hypertension typically have a fluid-filled, swollen abdomen.  They are also at risk of a blood vessel bursting, which can cause death due to blood loss.  The liver is one of the hardiest organs in your body; it is capable of repairing itself after repeated damage.  Unfortunately, by the time significant portal hypertension develops, the liver damage cannot be undone.

Chocolate is beneficial up to a point!  Most clinical trials used a tiny 10 grams (less than one ounce) of chocolate per day in their research.  I don’t know many people who can stop at one to two squares of chocolate!  If you want the therapeutic benefits of chocolate I suggest you find the darkest of dark chocolate and keep your intake low.  If you are overweight, eating too much chocolate will only contribute to your weight problem and that will cancel out the benefits of the antioxidants in chocolate!

Recommendations for cirrhosis of the liver

If you have been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, there are many strategies that can help to stop or slow down the progression of liver disease.  These include:

  • Avoid all alcohol.
  • Avoid all sugar and foods containing sugar.  Eating sugar will raise your blood sugar level and high blood sugar speeds up the rate of liver damage.
  • Avoid being overweight.  Excess weight, particularly that held in the abdominal region increases inflammation and promotes liver damage.
  • Avoid red meat.  Your liver may not be able to handle the high protein content.  Eating a lot of red meat can raise your blood ammonia level if you have cirrhosis.
  • Take a good quality liver tonic.  The herb St Mary’s thistle helps to protect liver cells from damage.
  • Take an MSM supplement.  MSM is a natural form of sulphur and sulphur helps tissue healing and reduces the formation of scar tissue.
  • Take a vitamin E supplement.  Vitamin E helps to heal liver cell membranes and it reduces inflammation inside the liver.
  • Take a fish oil supplement.  The omega 3 fats in fish oil have a powerful natural anti-inflammatory effect.

Source: Australian Doctor 19 April 2010