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Methylxanthines: Caffeine and Theobromine

June 27, 2010

“Does cacao contain caffeine? Contrary to popular opinion, cacao is a poor source of caffeine. A typical sample of cacao nibs or beans will yield anywhere from zero to 1,000 parts per million of caffeine (less than 1/20th of the caffeine present in conventional coffee.)

Cacao Fruits at Market

Theobroma Cacao Fruits at Market

Today we know that cacao is one of the richest sources of a peculiar and interesting substance known as theobromine, a close chemical relative and metabolite of caffeine.

Theobromine, like caffeine, and also like the asthma-improving methylxanthine theophylline, belong to the chemical group know as xanthine alkaloids. Chocolate products contain some caffeine, but not nearly enough to explain the attractions, fascinations, addictions and effects of chocolate.

Theobromine can form a metabolite of caffeine. This means that if one ingests caffeine, then after some time, theobromine will show up in the blood and in the urine. Though habituating, theobromine is milder and has about a quarter of the stimulating power of its sister molecule caffeine. Theobromine gently stimulates the central nervous system, relaxes smooth muscles and dilates blood vessels.

Theobromine is also a mild diuretic (increases urination) and has been used as a medical drug in cases where a heart attack had resulted in an increase in the accumulation of body fluid.

In humans, theobromine has quite long lasting effects. Liver enzymes decrease theobromine levels by only 50% between six to ten hours after consumption.

Cacao usually contains about 1 percent theobromine. Theobromine is an effective antibacterial substance. Theobromine is an effective antibacterial substance that kills steptococci mutans (the primary organism that causes cavities). Theobromine is a chemical relative of caffeine but is not a nervous system stimulant. Theobromine dilates the cardiovascular system, making the heart’s job easier. This is one of the major reasons why cacao is an important part of a heart healthy diet.”

SuperFoods & Naked Chocolate, David Wolfe

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2010 8:57 pm


    Theobromine (C7H8N4O2, or 3,7-dimethylxanthine, or 3,7-Dihydro-3,7-dimethyl-1H-purine-2,6-dione) is an alkaloid of the methylxanthine family, which also includes the similar compounds theophylline and caffeine. It is known to induce mutations in bacteria and lower eukaryotes, but does not seem to cause mutations in higher eukaryotes.

    Theobromine is a chemical stimulant frequently confused with caffeine, but has very different effects on the human body. It is a mild, lasting stimulant with a mood improving effect. Theobromine is found in cocoa and chocolate, in doses that are safe for humans to consume in large quantities, but can be lethal for animals such as dogs and horses, as they metabolize theobromine more slowly. Theobromine belongs to a class of alkaloid molecules known as methylxanthines. Methylxanthines naturally occur in as many as sixty different plant species and include caffeine (the primary methlyxanthine in coffee) and theophylline (the primary methylxanthine in tea). Theobromine is the primary methylxanthine found in products of the cocoa tree, theobroma cacao.

    Theobromine affects humans similarly to caffeine, but on a much smaller scale. Theobromine is mildly diuretic (increases urine production), is a mild stimulant, and relaxes the smooth muscles of the bronchi in the lungs. In the human body, theobromine levels are halved between 6-10 hours after consumption.

    Theobromine is best known for is use in chocolate products, such as Hershey’s products, ice cream, ect. This is because theobromine has a distinct, bitter flavor. Levels of theobromine in chocolate products varies greatly depending on the type of chocolate.For example, there are higher quantities of theobromine in darker chocolate and in higher quality while much lower levels are found in lighter, such as milk chocolate, and lower quality chocolate . However, theobromine is also used as a drug for solving many different ailments due to some it its lesser known attributes.

    Theobromine has been used as a diuretic, meaning that it increases urine production in the body. This is particularly useful after a person has experienced cardiac failure. Cardiac failure can sometimes result in an accumulation of bodily fluids. Theobromine is also known for its ability to dilate blood vessels making it a commonly prescribed treatment for people suffering from high blood pressure. Its ability to dilate has also been distorted and used with digitalis to relieve dilation.

    Theobromine is known as a weak stimulant. It is very similar to caffeine in how it reacts with the body, but must more mild and unlike caffeine, does not affect the central nervous system. As a stimulant it has been noted to raise levels of serotonin when combined with the other ingredients in chocolate to perform as a cheap, temporary substitute for common anti-depressants. However, extremely large quantities would have to be ingested before serotonin levels would elevate enough to make up for an anti-depressant.

    Theobromine remains in the body for a very long period of time, however between six and ten hours after it has been ingested, levels of theobromine are halved. An odd quality about theobromine is that it is able to relax bronchi muscles in the lungs, the third attribute of the compound which results in a medical cure of some kind.


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