Is dark chocolate healthy for liver?
Dark chocolate has been hailed as a superfood because of its anti-oxidant properties with known benefits in heart disease and stroke. Cocoa beans, from which dark chocolate is made, is rich in bioﬂavonoids which has the highest antioxidant level in comparison with other food sources.
Many studies began to investigate the potential benefit of dark chocolate on the liver. It was found that dark chocolate reduces damage to the blood vessels in patients who have suffered scarring on the liver due to excessive drinking or liver disease. In addition, dark chocolate reduces blood pressure in the liver as it contains high levels of anti-oxidants which negate the effects of damaging particles from the body.
One study was able to show a clear association between eating dark chocolate and portal hypertension (high blood pressure in the liver) and the potential to minimize the onset and impact of end stage liver disease and liver failure.
Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver as a result of long-term, continuous damage to the liver. In cirrhosis, circulation in the liver is damaged by oxidative stress and reduced antioxidant systems. After a meal, blood pressure in the abdominal veins usually increases due to increased blood flow to the liver. In cirrhosis, any further rise in pressure can cause them to rupture and bleed.
Another study found that polyphenols contained in dark chocolate could slow disease progression in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), the more serious form of the nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), characterized by excess fat build up in the liver.
Oxidative stress and inflammation is considered of primary importance in the progression of NAFLD. Consuming dark chocolate can halt oxidative stress and hepatic inflammation seen in NASH that ultimately leads to liver failure. Thus, dark chocolate could halt disease progression.
A daily dosage of 30 g of dark chocolate for 12 weeks in patients with NAFLD produced a significant decrease in body weight and BMI, significant risk factors to developing NAFLD. The same study found that HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol that protects the heart) level increased in NAFLD patients indicating a benefit in the lipid profile as well. Type 2 diabetes is often found in persons with NAFLD. The antioxidants in dark chocolate help the body use its own insulin more efficiently to help control blood sugar. As a result, it helps decrease insulin resistance, the driving factor of type 2 diabetes.
Another interesting finding by a neuroscientist found that a small square of dark chocolate melted on the tongue 20 minutes before eating, triggers a hormone that signals a feeling of fullness to the brain so that the meal portion consumed is less. This could again be beneficial in persons watching their weight or avoiding the risk for liver disease.
Notably, chocolates other than dark chocolate contain less cocoa and are not as beneficial. Many dark chocolate brands have over 70% of cocoa, while milk chocolates contain about 20-30% of cocoa solids. So, for liver health, choose dark chocolates.