Theobromine: Benefits, Uses, Side Effects

Theobromine, also known as xantheose, is the principal alkaloid found in the cacao bean. Dark chocolate contains about 25–35 mg of caffeine and 200–300 mg of theobromine per 40 grams of chocolate. Studies have shown that Theobromine has mild stimulatory and anti-inflammatory properties which can benefit blood pressure from the vasodilation effects and induce a self-calming effect. We’re going to discuss theobromine, how it works, and the benefits in more detail.

What Is Theobromine

Theobromine, also known as xantheose, is the principal alkaloid found in the cacao bean. Alkaloids in plants help protect them from predators and regulate their growth.

Therapeutically, alkaloids are particularly well known as anesthetics, cardioprotective, and anti-inflammatory agents. Examples of alkaloids used in a clinical setting, are morphine, strychnine, quinine, ephedrine, and nicotine.

Theobromine is commonly used as a dietary supplement and typically found in pre workouts, and fat burners, used for the stimulatory and focus effects.

How Does Theobromine Work, What Does Theobromine Do

Theobromine has similar effects as caffeine and is found in chocolate, or cacao. Your body metabolizes and breaks down caffeine into three different molecules, resulting in 12% theobromine, 4% theophylline, and 84% paraxanthine. The elimination half-life of theobromine is 6 - 8 hours, peaking around 2-3 hours as compared to only 30 minutes with caffeine.

Both caffeine and theobromine are what’s called xanthines, specifically methylxanthines. Xanthines are a group of alkaloids, commonly used for their effects as stimulants, and as bronchodilators. Xanthines act as antagonists of adenosine, with opposite effect and increase mental alertness in the central nervous system.

RELATED ARTICLE The Benefits Of Eating Dark Chocolate

Theobromine Benefits

Many of the benefits associated with cocoa, and dark chocolate are the same found with theobromine, due to the content found within chocolate and dark chocolate. Several studies investigating the effects of dark chocolate and cocoa overlap with those of theobromine.

RELATED ARTICLE 4 Amazing Benefits Of Cocoa

Cardiovascular Function & Vasodilation Effects

Theobromine has been shown to have vasodilation effects, widening blood vessels without compromising blood pressure. 

A small efficacy study, assed 41 diabetic patients for 30 days that supplemented cocoa (321mg of flavanols) per dose, three times per day.

Study results showed that cocoa has acute increases in flow mediated dilation (FMD) and 30-day, thrice-daily consumption of flavanol-containing cocoa increased baseline FMD by 30% [R]. Conclusions, suggest that diets rich in flavanols reverse vascular dysfunction in diabetes, highlighting therapeutic potentials in cardiovascular disease.

Other studies have also shown that dark chocolate and cocoa consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and show improvements in endothelial function [R].

A 4-week randomized placebo cross over study published in the British Journal Of Nutrition, investigated the effects of cocoa consumption on vascular stiffness and vascular tone in the peripheral arterioles of 30 middle aged, overweight men.

During active treatment, (cocoa) 37 g/d of dark chocolate and a sugar-free cocoa beverage (total cocoa = 22 g/d, total flavanols (TF) = 814 mg/d) was consumed. The cocoa treatment significantly increased the basal diameter and peak diameter of the brachial artery by 6% (+2 mm) and basal blood flow volume by 22%. Arterial stiffness was only observed in women [R]. 

Extensive research has shown that cocoa has a profound impact on cardiovascular health. In 2009 a study in Stockholm, Sweden assessed cardiac mortality in a high-risk group hospitalized for myocardial infarction. After an average of 8.6 years of follow-up patients who reported eating chocolate twice or more per week were 66% less likely to suffer a cardiac death compared to those who reported never eating chocolate. Other observational studies have shown reduced risks of stroke with chocolate consumption [R]. This is largely attributed to the flavonoids, which enhances blood flow through an increase in nitric oxide production. 

A cross-sectional analysis of data from 2217 participants in the NHLBI Family Heart Study identified an inverse relationship between chocolate consumption and calcified atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries [R]. Individuals who ate chocolate two or more times per week, were 32% more likely to prevent coronary artery calcification compared with those who never ate chocolate.

Neuroprotective Effects And Increased Working Memory

Animal studies have shown that theobromine has neuroprotective effects. A study investigating the effects of transient global cerebral ischemia (tGCI), a cerebrovascular disorder characterized by a brief decline in blood flow, neurological deficits, and is often predictive of stroke was investigated with supplementation of theobromine.

Rats were treated with theobromine (50, 100 mg/kg) for 7 consecutive days. The study found that severe neurological deficits accompanied by brain infarction, blood-brain barrier abnormalities, and oedema were prevented by theobromine supplementation. Theobromine protected against lipid peroxidation and enhanced glutathione level in the brain against tGCI/R [R].

Additional animal studies have shown that Theobromine improves working memory by activating the CaMKII/CREB/BDNF pathway. Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) has been strongly implicated in the memory formation of different species as a key regulator of gene expression.

In all the behavior tests, working memory seemed to be improved by theobromine supplementation. In addition, p-CaMKII and p-CREB levels were significantly elevated in the medial prefrontal cortex of theobromine administered rats in comparison to the control [R]. 

Stimulatory Effects and Increased Alertness 

Some studies have found that theobromine has stimulatory effects, which helps increase mental alertness. Modest effects were also found that theobromine helps increase measures of focus and attention [R].

Theobromine has a structure similar to caffeine, and are blockers or antagonists of the adenosine receptors, therefore will promote wakefulness.

Theobromine Side Effects

The most common adverse side effects reported from the supplementation of theobromine are dose dependent and often experienced using a higher dose between 560-1000mg, and included symptoms of

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Irritability

Theobromine: Takeaway

Although theobromine and caffeine are quite different when it comes to stimulatory effects, it does have several benefits, on vasodilation, as well as increased mental alertness and focus. Adding some dark chocolate to your daily diet, could be, a great way to help heart health and dial in your mid-day slump with better focus.

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