Sometime around the middle of the 16th century, people in America started consuming cocoa and the practice spread to Europe soon. Since cocoa has a flavour that is not only rich and sweet, but also lingering, it is considered to be a delightful habit. Apart from this, chocolate was once considered to be a healthy nutrient besides being a medicine. From the traditional point of view, cocoa's health benefits have been associated with elevated levels of antioxidants obtained from the cocoa beans of Theobroma. Nevertheless, cocoa has a notable direct psychoactive effect owing to the presence of methylxanthines. In fact, cocoa encloses two vital compounds - caffeine and theobromine, and their presence in just appropriate proportions makes it a well liked beverage/food. These two compounds have a positive influence on our moods as well as our level of alertness.

Theobromine is a primary alkaloid found in cocoa.This compound is present in cocoa in higher amounts compared to caffeine and apparently it is responsible for many of the effects of consuming cocoa. The primary mechanisms of action of theobromine include inhibiting phosphodiesterases and blocking the adenosine receptors. Currently, scientists are exploring the other possible mechanisms of this compound with a view to comprehend the health benefits related to consumption of theobromine better. Different from what occurs to other mammals, including pets, theobromine is considered to be safe for consumption by humans and the undesirable effects of this compound are fewer compared to caffeine. Hence, most experts are of the view that theobromine deserves more attention as an attractive molecule present in cocoa.

As discussed above, this alkaloid substance present in chocolate belongs to the class of compounds called methylxanthines. Among other stimulants, chemically theobromine is related to caffeine. Compared to caffeine, the effects of theobromine is very mild. However, when consumed in excessive amounts, this compound may lead to medical issues. However, most humans are fortunate that the level of ingestion at which theobromine becomes unsafe is extremely high.

Theobromine derives its name from the word Theobroma, which is the cacao plant's genus name. In Greek, the word Theobroma denotes the "food of Gods". Much before the European explorers came to know about Theobroma cacao, people in the New World were aware of the benefits of this plant and used it for several centuries. Once the food was introduced to the European explorers and early settlers, it rapidly became very popular, particularly when this food was blended with sugar cane that came from the not too distant Caribbean colonies. The cacao plant encloses a variety of complex chemical compounds, and all these compounds add to chocolate's exceptional flavour as well as the physiological effects.

Scientists were able to isolate theobromine from the cacao beans in 1878 and subsequently the substance was synthesized successfully from xanthine. At times, this substance is also referred to as xantheose. After theobromine is isolated from the cacao beans, the color of this substance varies from neutral to white, while its flavour is somewhat bitter. Although many of us may not be aware, the entire chocolate products contain this alkaloid compound. In fact, this compound is found in higher concentrations in black chocolate, which is not diluted by adding ingredients like milk or cream. In some chocolates, the concentration of theobromine may be as high as 3 percent, while in others the substance can be diluted by adding milk and cream to have a concentration of even lower than 0.5 percent.

Health benefits

Similar to caffeine, theobromine also possesses diuretic properties. In addition, it also works in the form of a stimulant. Aside from making the heart beat quickly, theobromine also dilates blood vessels, thereby helping to lower high blood pressure. However, different from caffeine, theobromine does not work comprehensively on our central nervous system and, as a result, it may not usually be responsible for tremors and shakes that are generally related to consuming too much caffeine. In addition, this natural compound is also a bronchodilator and traditionally it has been successfully used for treating asthma.

In fact, theobromine is just one of the several compounds that may be present in a chocolate bar. In order to reap the health benefits of these compounds, most of them should in fact be consumed in extremely elevated concentrations. This makes chocolate not a very ideal health food source, contrary to what is claimed by several news articles. It is worth mentioning here that chocolate may prove to be very dangerous for several animals, particularly dogs, as the metabolism of theobromine is very sluggish in these animals. Therefore, you should be careful never to offer your dog foods containing chocolates, as even very small amounts of it may even prove to be fatal for them.

Similar to several other alkaloid compounds, even theobromine has an assortment of consequences on our body. It has been found that theobromine actually works in the form of a diuretic, cardiac stimulator, vasodilator, and even a relaxant for smooth muscles. In addition, the stimulating property of theobromine is more than 10 times in humans compared to that of caffeine.

Many of us usually consider cough to be a symptom of other conditions, but actually it is a general as well as protective reflex. In 2004, a study undertaken by researchers at the Imperial College London came to the conclusion that theobromine possesses therapeutic properties that help to reduce cough and this action of this natural substance has been found to be superior to codeine. In fact, theobromine reduces cough by holding back the activities of the vagus nerves. In addition, it was found that theobromine directly works on the vagus nerves, which actually sets off coughing.

It has been also found that all varieties of methylxanthines possess the aptitude to relax the smooth bronchial muscles present in the lungs. Both theobromine and theophylline are known as methylxanthines and they are employed for treating asthma bronchiale.

By relaxing the smooth bronchial muscles, methylxanthines actually help to clear the congested airways and make breathing easier.

The most well known effect of this alkaloid compound is perhaps its role as a vasodilator. Hence, physicians regularly prescribe theobromine for alleviating the symptoms associated with angina pectoris. This compound works on the nerves located in the veins and make them unwind with a view to make room for more blood flow. This is the main reason why theobromine, coupled with its gentle stimulating actions, provides several benefits to endurance athletes. In fact, this use of this compound helps such athletes to function with elevated intensity for a longer period of time than usual.

Theobromine is widely used as an active ingredient in various energy boosting nutritional supplements as well as over-the-counter products for weight loss.

People seeking to obtain additional energy may find theobromine supplementation beneficial. They are also useful for people wanting to lose weight or augment their general health condition.