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Chemical Found in Dark Chocolate May Be Natural Diarrhea Remedy

Oct. 3, 2005 -- Dark chocolate may contain a hidden benefit to ease one of life's most common yet embarrassing health problems: diarrhea.

A new study shows that the flavonoids found in cocoa beans can help prevent the buildup of fluid in the small intestine associated with diarrhea.

Researchers say the results suggest that cocoa flavonoids may be used in nutritional supplements as a natural remedy for diarrhea, and dark chocolate, which contains the highest concentration of these flavonoids, may also offer mild diarrhea relief.

"Our study presents the first evidence that fluid loss by the intestine can be prevented by cocoa flavonoids," says researcher Horst Fischer, PhD, an associate scientist at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, in a news release. "Ultimately, this discovery could lead to the development of natural treatments that are inexpensive, easy to access, and are unlikely to have side effects."

Dark Chocolate for Diarrhea?

Researchers say the use of cocoa to treat diarrhea dates back to ancient South American and European cultures, but until now no one had investigated this natural diarrhea remedy.

"Our research successfully proves that this ancient myth is really based on scientific principles," says researcher Beate Illek, PhD, also of Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute.

In the study, which appears in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers tested the effects of cocoa extract and flavonoids on cell cultures that mimicked the lining of the intestine. The results demonstrated an effect of inhibited secretion of intestinal salt and water. In bad diarrhea such as that caused by cholera or E. coli, the excessive loss of fluid and salt through the intestines can disrupt the electrolyte balance in the body with dangerous consequences.

Researchers say the cocoa flavonoids appear to work by binding to and inhibiting a protein that regulates fluid secretion in the small intestines.

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