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Dark chocolate could be beneficial to liver patients

By Jane Byrne , 16-Apr-2010

Eating dark chocolate reduces damage to the blood vessels of cirrhotic patients and also lowers blood pressure in the liver, according to research presented this week at the International Liver Congress in Vienna.

The Congress constitutes the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Liver (EASL), and the association’s vice president, Professor Mark Thursz from Imperial College London, endorsed the study from Spanish researchers, claiming it shows a clear association between eating dark chocolate and portal hypertension.

Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver as a result of long-term, continuous damage by oxidative stress and reduced antioxidant systems.

The researchers said that eating dark chocolate inhibited the traditional post-meal increase in abdominal blood pressure, which can reach dangerous levels in cirrhotic patients and, in severe cases, lead to blood vessel rupture.

A study of 21 patients with end-stage liver disease found those given a meal containing 85 percent-cocoa dark chocolate had a markedly smaller rise in blood pressure in the liver, or portal hypertension, than those given white chocolate, with the authors of the study claiming that the antioxidants – cocoa flavonoids - in dark chocolate help the smooth muscle cells of the blood vessels to relax and widen.

The data also showed that eating dark chocolate may exert additional beneficial effects throughout the whole body. In comparison, white chocolate, which contains no beneficial 'phytochemicals', did not result in the same effects, concluded the authors of the study.

The study

In this study, 21 cirrhotic patients with end stage liver disease were randomised to receive a standard liquid meal, according to the conference presentation.

The ten patients received the liquid meal containing dark chocolate (containing 85 per cent cocoa, 0.55g of dark chocolate/Kg of body weight) while 11 patients received the liquid meal containing white chocolate, which is devoid of cocoa flavanols, according to body weight.

HVPG (blood pressure in the liver), arterial pressure and portal blood flow were measured at baseline and 30 minutes after meal administration, using a US-Doppler, said the researchers.

The results showed that both meals caused a highly significant but similar increase in portal blood flow with a +24 per cent increase in dark chocolate compared to +34 per cent in those patients who received white chocolate.

And the researchers noted that a post-prandial increase in HVPG was markedly reduced in patients receiving dark chocolate (+10.3±16.3% Vs +26.3±12.7%, p=0.02).

Evidence builds

The study adds to an ever-growing body of science supporting the health benefits of consuming cocoa flavonoids.

Indeed, only last month ConfectioneryNews.com reported on another study by German researchers, published in the European Heart Journal, that found those who ate an average of 7.5 grams of dark chocolate a day had lower blood pressure and a 39 per cent lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate the least amount – an average of 1.7 grams a day.

Functional chocolate market

Euromonitor estimates the global market for functional chocolate at $371.9m in 2009, growing to $460.3m in 2012. In 2002 it was worth only $141.5m.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), of 123 global product launches since 2005, 36 have been in the US, with Japan and Germany next at nine. Of those launches 40 made weight management claims, 22 made cardiovascular claims, 17 made cognitive claims and 15 made digestive health claims.

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