New Study Confirms Ancient Remedies dating back to the 16th Century
Children's Hospital researchers have discovered the chemical behind cocoa's ability to offer diarrhea relief, confirming what ancient South American cultures are said to have known and then taught to Europeans as long ago as the 16th century. Cocoa comes from the cacao plant (Theobroma cacao), native to the Americas.
According to researchers at Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland, flavonoids are the active cocoa bean ingredient that can limit the development of fluids in the body that cause diarrhea. Scientists believe these flavonoids could be used to create natural supplements to ease diarrhea symptoms. Dark chocolate contains high concentrations of cocoa and may offer mild relief.
"Our study presents the first evidence that fluid loss by the intestine can be prevented by cocoa flavonoids," said Horst Fischer, PhD, an associate scientist with the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI). "Ultimately, this discovery could lead to the development of natural treatments that are inexpensive, easy to access and unlikely to have side effects."
Fischer is a co-author of the study, published in the October 2005 issue of The Journal of Nutrition. Fischer and other CHORI researchers collaborated on the study with scientists at Heinrich Heine University in Germany.
Diarrhea is a common problem in children and each year about 2.4 million visit their doctor with symptoms of diarrhea.
"Patients with diarrhea can lose dangerous amounts of fluids," said Beate Illek, PhD, an associate scientist at CHORI and another co-author of the study. Children younger than 5 and the elderly are the most likely to develop grave health problems if their condition leads to dehydration. In severe cases such patients suffering from diarrhea can die from dehydration in only a few days.
Historical records show people in Central and South America used cocoa as a medicinal plant since ancient times and taught European explorers of the Americas in the 16th century. That knowledge made its way to Europe. But until now, no one knew exactly how the cocoa bean was able to help diarrhea sufferers. "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 the laboratory, using cell cultures to mimic what happens in the body's intestine lining. All the cultures produced lower levels of diarrhea-causing fluids, confirming that cocoa flavonoids can be used as a diarrhea remedy.
Cocoa flavonoids are able to bind to and inhibit a protein in the intestines called CFTR, which regulates fluid secretion in the small intestines.
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