Cirrhosis Dangers Reduced By Eating Dark Chocolate, Study Says

Dark chocolate has heart health benefits for those with cirrhosis and a related disorder known as portal hypertension, according to a recent research project. This article details the science behind this sweet news.|Dark chocolate is not only good for the heart. It can also be good for the liver, especially in anyone who has cirrhosis of the liver and a related disorder known as portal hypertension. This article provides details.[/summary]

[body]Cirrhosis of the liver is the twelfth leading cause of disease-related deaths in the United States. Cirrhosis kills ten to fifteen thousand individuals in the U.S. each year.

Any news that offers the prospect of helping cirrhosis patients live longer and healthier lives is certainly welcome. But recent research has discovered some especially happy - and somewhat surprising - findings: eating certain kinds of chocolate may actually prolong the lives of people with cirrhosis and other forms of advanced liver disease.

Results of the study were announced in the spring of 2010, at the Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of the Liver in Vienna, Austria. Researchers announced that their findings showed that dark chocolate reduces portal hypertension in patients with cirrhosis.

It’s easier to understand the research if you know what portal hypertension is, and the causes of cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis occurs when normal liver tissue is damaged and replaced by fibrous scar tissue. Typically, this damage takes place over a long period of time. Under normal circumstances, your liver can regenerate new cells and replace those that have been damaged. However, when there’s so much damage that cirrhosis has occurred, the liver is unable to replace the scar tissue. Cirrhosis blocks the flow of blood through the liver, and can eventually lead to liver failure – the liver’s complete inability to function.

Cirrhosis results most often from two causes: drinking an excessive amount of alcohol, and hepatitis. No matter how you get it, cirrhosis can lead to some very dangerous liver trouble and complications.

One complication in particular is known as portal hypertension. Portal hypertension occurs when blood pressure rises in the portal vein, which carries blood from the digestive organs to the liver. When this occurs, large veins known as varices sometimes develop around the stomach and esophagus. These bypass any blockages caused by portal hypertension. Due to the fact that these blood vessels are fragile in the first place, and because they’re under an abnormal amount of pressure, ruptures are more likely to occur. Such cirrhosis-related ruptures are called bleeding varices, and they’re very dangerous.

But data released by a group of researchers in Spain reveals that eating dark chocolate may lower the risk of portal hypertension causing bleeding varices in cirrhosis patients.

It’s typical for blood pressure in your abdominal area to bump upward shortly after you’ve eaten. This is due to increased blood flow to the liver. This creates a hazardous situation for anyone with cirrhosis and portal hypertension, because increased blood pressure in the abdominal veins also means an increased chance of rupture.

Dark chocolate contains a lot of flavenoids, which are chemicals that have been proven to be beneficial for the body – especially the heart. They also have the ability to relax and widen blood vessels, improving blood flow and decreasing blood pressure. The darker the chocolate, the higher the amount of flavenoids. Keep in mind though, not all types of chocolate have these chemicals, and therefore not all chocolate is necessarily good for your heart.

The participants in this study were given either 85 percent dark chocolate to eat, or a meal of white chocolate which contained no flavenoids. Researchers said those who ate white chocolate had an increase in blood pressure that was greater than those who ate dark chocolate. These results seemed to indicate that cirrhosis patients who eat dark chocolate lower their risk of blood vessel ruptures.

Dark chocolate - especially the high quality variety - need no longer be thought of as just a delicious dessert or plain candy. It can now be considered healthy to eat in moderation. The flavenoids found in high quality dark chocolate offer the same health benefits as chemicals found in darkly colored vegetables and many varieties of fruit. There are, in fact, eight times as many flavenoids in dark chocolate as there are in strawberries.

Anyone with cirrhosis should actively search for strategies to prevent portal hypertension and bleeding varices. For those to want to avoid portal hypertension, eating dark chocolate certainly seems to be a smart choice.

Click on liver cirrhosis and causes of liver failure for more. Neal Kennedy is a retired TV news anchor, medical reporter and radio talk show host. He is a frequent contributor to Liver Health Articles, a resource website about liver health and digestive wellness.

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