“I felt my self [sic] very unwell and derected [sic] a little chocolate which Mr. McClellin gave us, prepared of which I drank about a pint and found great relief.”
William Clark 1806, Louis and Clark
Theobromine, also known as theobroma, translates into “food of the gods” in its Greek roots. It is a bitter alkaloid of the cacao plant, thereby found in chocolate, and estimated to be in nineteen other plant sources, including the kola nut, tea leaves, and yerba mate.
The therapeutic uses of theobromine were discovered in 1841 by the Russian chemist Alexander Woskresensky, where it was used as a treatment option for edema, syphilitic angina attacks, and degenerative angina. Theobromine has also been used as a treatment for arteriosclerosis, vascular diseases, and hypertension, and it was used as a vasodilator (widens the blood vessel), a diuretic (aids urination), and has had positive effects as a heart stimulant. It has also been a popular remedy for those dealing with asthma because of its ability to ease tension and stimulate blood flow. People I know have reported better lung capacity from consuming raw cacao regularly.
All wild plants have a blocker (alkaloids) inside them that can induce toxicosis when consumed in inappropriate excess. This is the reason why most animals cannot consume chocolate or cacao; they are not able to metabolize it effectively since they do not have the right enzymes to break it down. Humans, on the other hand, are able to break down high levels of theobromine and detoxify any negative effects from over consumption. The theobromine percentage in chocolate or cacao is so small it’s almost impossible to consume enough in one sitting to have any adverse effects from it. The LD50 (lethal dose) of theobromine is around 1,000 mg. A single cacao bean has around 1.2% theobromine by weight, while processed chocolate has even lower amounts. So in reality, the average person will have to eat a full pound of cacao beans to reach this limit, which is not only unreasonable, it’s physically impossible due to cacao’s dense nutritional profile.
Theobromine, like I mentioned above, is indeed a toxin (at an extreme dosage, as with anything else), which inhibits its medicinal properties and can be deadly, “for animals.” But I have yet to see any research study that validates the detriment of cacao or even dark chocolate in humans. Actually, all the long-term studies are saying that chocolate seems to enhance life span, increase bone density, and increase heart health. From 1890 to 1930, theobromine was injected into heart attack victims to revive their heart. Theobromine also dilates the capillaries, allowing smooth blood flow and relaxing tense muscles.
Theobromine is an effective antibacterial compound that assists in the deconstruction of plague forming streptococci mutans, which over time are a major cause of cavities. Recent research studies suggest that regular dark chocolate consumption may aid in the breakdown of calcification build up in the arterial walls. This indicates that by consuming high quality dark chocolate or raw cacao which contains high polyphenol content, the condition known as atherosclerosis might be remedied or completely avoided.