Nutrient Spotlight: Theobromine In Cacao
First isolated & discovered in 1841, theobromine is the main psychoactive compound found in cacao. Named after the Latin name of cacao, ‘Theobroma Cacao’, theobromine is a bitter alkaloid, in the methylxanthine class, alongside caffeine.
Pure cacao contains an average of 1-2% by weight theobromine, compared to 0.1-0.3% caffeine, making it the far more significant stimulant in cacao. The darker the chocolate, the higher the theobromine content, so naturally pure cacao is your best source.
As a stimulant, theobromine is far more gentle, without the jitters or crashes that often come with caffeine. Theobromine is primarily focused on the cardiovascular system, instead of the nervous system like caffeine. Because theobromine is less water soluble than caffeine, and more fat soluble, its uptake is slower and lasts longer. It’s like a long and slow burn, compared to a fast & furious one with caffeine. So when you need the extra energy boost, theobromine will give it to you long & steady, without the negative effects associated with caffeine consumption.
In addition to gentler stimulating properties, it’s worth noting that our pure ceremonial cacao still contains all the healthy fats; the cacao butter. The fats help the body absorb the stimulating properties more slowly so that our body can benefit from them over a longer period, with less intensity. Unlike cocoa powder where the cacao butter has been removed, our cacao still contains around 50% butter.
Theobromine’s health benefits focus primarily on the heart, with obvious secondary implications. Theobromine is a vasodilator that expands the blood vessels, which increases blood flow. This can reduce high blood pressure, alleviating related issues. Theobromine is also associated with lowered levels of bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) and elevated levels of good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol). The combined effect is to reduce the risk of heart-related risks. For example, one study found a reduction in coronary heart disease in those with elevated chocolate consumption.
There is some research that links theobromine to improved mood, but this requires more study to prove a clearer connection, as there are also other compounds in cacao (such as PEA & anandamide) that are mood-enhancing.
A final note is that certain animals, like dogs, process theobromine much more slowly than humans, and are thus more susceptible to theobromine poisoning. This can be fatal in higher doses, so be sure to keep pure cacao away from pets & animals.