Theobroma cacao is the tree that gives us chocolate. It's seeds are roasted, crushed, and mixed into water to form a thick, bitter brew. Which was traditionally used in South America as a stimulant and aphrodisiac.
Some of the chemicals contained in the seeds are closely related to caffeine. Theobromine, which is the main active constituent in cacao, is nearly identical to caffeine in fact. It has very similar effects overall to caffeine, but is a weaker mental stimulant, and a stronger broncodilator and vasodilator. This makes theobroma useful for athletic performance, as it increases the airflow to the lungs, combats high blood pressure, and provides subtle mental stimulation.
The medicinal uses of Theobroma cacao vary significantly depending on the plant part used.
Cacao is mainly used to make the delicious snack we know as chocolate. As a herb however, it is mainly used as a mild stimulant, aphrodisiac, and potent antioxidant. This is a herb not generally used to treat a particular condition, rather it is a general "health-promoting" supplemental herb. It is also useful for athletes an those travelling to high altitudes for its potent bronchodilating activities.
Seeds, leaves, bark
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Constituents of Interest
Theobroma cacao's classification is not fully agreed upon by taxonomists, some of which consider it a member of the Sterculiaceae family of plants, while others classify it under the Malvaceae family. Its most common classification, Sterculiaceae comprises about 1500 species into 70 genera. Theobroma itself only has about 20 different species.
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Clinical Applications Of Cacao:
Cacao seeds are useful as a general health tonic, athletic enhancement, and to ammeliorate altitude sickness (mountain sickness). The potent antioxidant status of the seeds give it a wide range of theraprutic effects, and is a popular adjunctive treatment during cancer therapy.
Theobromine may inhibit tryptophan but it is unknown how this chemical will effect serotonin levels in the gut and brain.
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For a list of references visit the full cacao monograph.