Study confirms ancient myth: Dark chocolate helps diarrhea

A new study conducted by researchers at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland is the first to discover that a chemical in cocoa beans can limit the development of fluids that cause diarrhea. Cocoa beans contain a large amount of chemicals called flavonoids. Scientists believe that these flavonoids can be used to create natural supplements to ease diarrhea symptoms. Dark chocolate contains high concentrations of cocoa and may offer mild relief.

The study, published in the October issue of The Journal of Nutrition, found that cocoa flavonoids can bind to and inhibit a protein in the intestines called CFTR, which regulates fluid secretion in the small intestines. The research was done in collaboration with scientists at Heinrich Heine University in Germany. “Our study presents the first evidence that fluid loss by the intestine can be prevented by cocoa flavonoids,” said Horst Fischer, Ph.D., Associate Scientist, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute and co-author of the study. “Ultimately, this discovery could lead to the development of natural treatments that are inexpensive, easy to access and are unlikely to have side effects.”

Each year, Americans record an average of 2.4 million visits to their doctor with symptoms of diarrhea. Children younger than the age of five and the elderly are the most likely to develop grave health problems if their condition leads to dehydration. “Patients with diarrhea can lose dangerous amounts of fluids,” said Beate Illek, Ph.D., Associate Scientist, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute and co-author of the study. In severe cases children or elderly patients with diarrhea can die from dehydration within a few days.

History shows that the use of cocoa to treat diarrhea dates back to the 16th century by ancient South American and European cultures. Until now, no one knew exactly why the cocoa bean appeared to be a remedy. “Our research successfully proves that this ancient myth is really based on scientific principals,” said Dr. Illek. For more than a year, scientists tested cocoa extract and flavonoids in cell cultures that mimic the lining of the intestine. All of the cultures reported lower fluid levels. Consequently, the tests confirmed that cocoa flavonoids are a possible remedy for diarrhea.


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