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CIRRHOSIS

Dark Chocolate: The Liver’s Lover

Our taste buds, our hearts, our noses and our brains love chocolate.  Our taste buds love it for its decadent flavor, our hearts and our brains love it for its richness in flavonols, our noses love it for its sweet aroma.

So it only stands to reason that other parts of our body would love chocolate just as much, right?

Well, that statement holds water in at least one respect, as researchers have found chocolate to be the liver’s object of affection as well.

The liver is a lot like electricity; you don’t really appreciate it until it’s gone.  And for people with cirrhosis of the liver, it might as well be.  Cirrhosis of the liver is a progressive disease, where healthy cells are replaced by decaying scar tissue, rendering the liver a three-pound paperweight eventually.  Cirrhosis of the liver handicaps the liver from being able to carry out crucial functions to daily living, like converting glucose into glycogen, making cholesterol, producing urea so the rest of the excretory system can produce urine, and so on.

Fortunately, people rarely get cirrhosis of the liver without inflicting it upon themselves.  It is a symptom of hepatitis C, that’s true, but far and away it results after prolonged and excessive alcohol consumption.

While chocolate consumption—dark chocolate consumption, specifically—won’t cure cirrhosis of the liver, researchers in London say it may prevent the extreme spiking of blood pressure levels that tend to occur after someone with cirrhosis of the liver has had a meal.

People with cirrhosis of the liver have to be very careful about what they eat.  We all do, but people with cirrhosis of the liver must be especially careful because meals that are high in sugar cause abdominal blood pressures to rise rapidly, potentially leading to blood vessel rupture in extreme cases if they’re not careful.

But researchers are so impressed with their results on 21 patients with end stage liver disease, they think dark chocolate may eventually come to be prescribed to all liver disease patients.

Speaking at the International Liver Congress in Vienna Austria, Professor Mark Thurz said, “This study shows a clear association between eating dark chocolate and high blood pressure in the liver 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.”  Thurz is a professor of Hepatology at Imperial College London.

So, does this mean that you should go out and buy up all the Hershey bars you can find?  Hardly.  Remember, this study is talking about dark chocolate and the kind of dark chocolate that’s cocoa-rich.  The richer it is in cocoa, the higher it is in flavonol content.

But bear in mind that the higher the bar’s cocoa content, the less sweet it is.  So if you’re comparing a bar that’s 80 percent cacao with a bar that’s 70 percent cacao (Note:  “Cacao” and “cocoa” are often used interchangeably, but there’s actually a difference between the two.  For these purposes, though, they’re one and the same), the 70 percent cacao bar will be far sweeter than the 80 percent cacao bar.

Oh, and a little chocolate goes a long way in health benefits.  So don’t go eating an entire bar of Lindt chocolate for your after-dinner dessert and claim that your old friend Frank said you should be eating that amount to stay healthy.  Uh-uh.

Chocolate is high in calories, and as with anything, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.  To keep weight levels in check yet still get the health benefits dark chocolate provides, eat about a square of chocolate per day, or 6.7 grams.  That’s about half a bar per week.

The good stuff kind, though—none of this milk chocolate or white chocolate junk.  When the researchers used white chocolate and milk chocolate on the 21 people with cirrhosis of the liver, it didn’t lower abdominal blood pressure levels one iota.

 

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