Theobroma cacao L.

Last updated: 17 Jun 2016

Scientific Name

Theobroma cacao L.


Cacao minar Gaertn., Cacao minus Gaertn., Cacao sativa Aubl., Cacao theobroma Tussac, Theobroma integerrima Stokes, Theobroma kalagua De Wild., Theobroma leiocarpum Bernoulli, Theobroma pentagonum Bernoulli, Theobroma saltzmanniana Bernoulli, Theobroma sapidum Pittier, Theobroma sativa (Aubl.) Lign. & Le Bey, Theobroma sativum (Aubl.) Lign. & Bey [1]

Vernacular Name

Malaysia Pokok coklat, koko [2]
English The cacao, cacao tree [2], chocolate tree, cocoa bean, cacao bean [3]
India Coco, kokko, kokobeejada gida [3]
Philippines Cacao, kakaw [3]
Panama Sia [3]
Paraguay Kupua, kupuasu [3]
Mexico Biziaa, bizoya, cacahuacuahuitl, cacao, cacaotl, cacauatzaua [3]
Peru Bkau, cacahua, cacahuillo, canga, ccahua, chaxon runxan, chepere, cumala, musena, nucan, turampi, turanqui, turanti [3]
Brazil Cacau, cacaueiro cupuacu, cupuassu, cupuhi [3].

Geographical Distributions

Theobroma cacao is found in tropical America and has been cultivated in Peninsular Malaysia. [2]

Botanical Description

No documentation.


No documentation.

Chemical Constituent

T. cacao bean has been reported to contain polyphenols, procyanidins, flavan-3-ols ((-)-epicatechin, catechin), theobromine, phenethylamine (PEA), caffeine. [4][5][6][7][8]

Plant Part Used

Leaf, flower, root. [2]

Traditional Use

The young leaves are applied on wounds as antiseptic. [2]

The flowers are used to expel screwworms. [2]

The roots are used in the Philippine islands to increase menstrual flow and to induce abortion. [2]

Preclinical Data


T. cacao and its phytochemical constituents including flavan-3-ols have been reported to have several health benefits, including antioxidant, anticarcinogen, cardiopreventive, antimicrobial, and neuro-protective agents [7]. Flavanols are antioxidants and modify the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, the synthesis of eicosanoids, C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, the activation of platelets, and nitric oxidemediated mechanisms of inflammation, potentially leading to decreased risk of chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer [9][10][11].

Antioxidant activity

T. cacao has been found to contain much higher levels of antioxidants, including total phenolics (611 mg of gallic acid equivalents, GAE) and flavonoids (564mg of epicatechin equivalents, ECE) per serving than black tea (124mg of GAE and 34 mg of ECE, respectively), green tea (165 mg of GAE and 47 mg of ECE), and red wine (340 mg of GAE and 163 mg of ECE). [12]

T. cacao is reported to have antioxidant activity by lowering F2-isoprostanes, decreasing lipid peroxidation and decreasing reactive oxygen species (ROS) [13]. In a laboratory animal study, T. cacao decreased liver lipid peroxide, liver glutathione levels and plasma ALT and AST, supporting the strong antioxidant activity of T. cacao in the liver [14].

Anticholesterolemic activity

In an animal model of atherosclerosis, T. cacao powder at a human dose equivalent of two dark chocolate bars per day significantly inhibited atherosclerosis, lowered cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, and triglycerides, raised high-density lipoprotein, and protected the lower density lipoproteins from oxidation. [15]

Antihypertensive activity

Cacao polyphenols are potent antioxidants that can support nitric oxide production to help improve blood vessel dilation and improve blood flow. A laboratory animal study found that Cacao powder high in polyphenols can lower blood pressure with similar effects to the antihypertiensive drug captopril (Capoten). [16]

Dark chocolate induces coronary vasodilation, improves coronary vascular function, and decreases platelet adhesion 2 hours after consumption. These immediate beneficial effects were paralleled by a significant reduction of serum oxidative stress and were positively correlated with changes in serum epicatechin concentration. [17]

Antidepressant activity

Consuming high flavanol containing chocolate and T. cacao can have a positive effect on brain health. Touted as a mood enhancer, chocolate has traditionally been eaten to elevate mood and help with depression. Laboratory animal studies support these effects and report that polyphenols found in T. cacao have antidepressant-like activity. T. cacao contains phenylethylamine (PEA), a neurochemical that helps with an increased sense of well-being and contentment and in sleep. PEA seems to release b-endorphin, an opioid peptide that is the driving force behind Cacao’s pleasurable effects. [18]

Neuroprotective activity

T. cacao is reported to exert a neuroprotective action by reducing oxidative stress through reducing reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and modulating mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation. [19]

Anti-inflammatory activity

The laboratory studies have found that T. cacao exerts anti-inflammatory and inmmune modulating activity, partially through T helper 1 (Th1) response and increases intestinal T lymphocyte count [20]. T. cacao exerts regulatory activity on the secretion of inflammatory mediators from macrophages and other leucocytes in vitro [21].

Antiproliferative activity

The ingesting of T. cacao may protect against cancer. The laboratory studies have reported that T. cacao extracts high in polyphenols have an antiproliferative effect on colon and prostate cancer cell growth. The positive benefits of decreasing oxidative stress, inflammation and in pleasure seem to be sufficient enough to warrant further testing of T. cacao for cancer treatment. [22][23]


No documentation

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

Anticholesterolemic activity

Human studies have also reported that intake of Cacao powder can improve cholesterol levels, actually decreasing LDL oxidized cholesterol levels while improving HDL levels. [24][25][26]

Neuroprotective activity

A pilot study evaluated the relationship between cerebral blood flow and a single acute dose (450 mg flavanols) of flavanol-rich T. cacao. [27]

Antihypertensive activity

Human studies have reported a modest reduction in blood pressure levels after consuming high flavanol dark chocolate daily. [28][29]

5 randomized controlled studies of T. cacao administration involving a total of 173 subjects with a median duration of 2 weeks looked at blood pressure after consuming T. cacao in the diet. The authors concluded that consumption of foods rich in T. cacao may reduce blood pressure. [30]

A cohort study in 470 elderly men also found that consumption of T. cacao was inversely associated with blood pressure and mortality. [31]  

A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover trial looked at the use of a flavanol-rich T. cacao drink (150 mL twice a day, approximately 900 mg flavanols/day) in 20 individuals with essential hypertension. Antihypertensive medications were discontinued before study enrollment. T. cacao treatment for 2 weeks increased insulin-stimulated changes in brachial artery diameter when compared with placebo; however, T. cacao treatment did not significantly reduce blood pressure or improve insulin resistance and had no significant effects on skeletal muscle capillary recruitment, circulating plasma concentrations of adipocytokines, or endothelial adhesion molecules. [32]

Cardiacprotective activity

The flavanols found in T. cacao (similar to tea) have been reported to have positive effects on cardiovascular health. [33][34] The results of human trials suggests that the regular consumption of T. cacao products containing high levels of flavanols may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). [35][36][37]

Photoprotective activity

A small humanstudy found that regular consumption of high flavanol chocolate offers significant photoprotection and can be useful at protecting human skin from harmful UV effects. Sweetened and processed chocolate (including milk chocolate, low in flavanols) has no such effect. [38]

The results found that flavanol-rich T. cacao can increase the cerebral blood flow to gray matter, suggesting the potential of Cacao flavanols for treatment of vascular impairment, including dementia and strokes, and thus for maintaining cardiovascular health. Other studies have found that short-term ingestion of flavanol-rich T. cacao leads to significant peripheral vasodilation, including blood brain flow, in healthy people by improving endothelial function mediated by nitric oxide, thereby potentially offering protection from conditions such as cerebrovascular ischemic syndromes, including dementia and stroke. [39][40]

Antidiabetic activity

One study in humans has reported that ingesting T. cacao does improve insulin sensitivity [41]. A study followed 1169 non-diabetic patients who had their first heart attack and who consumed chocolate regularly. Chocolate consumption was associated with lower cardiac mortality in a dose dependent manner in patients free of diabetes surviving their first heart attack. Although more research is necessary, results of consuming chocolate and the reduced risks of heart disease is promising [42].


Chocolate (T. cacao) consumption may result in migraine headaches in sensitive individuals. [43] If you have a history of migraine headaches or other vascular headaches, avoid chocolate. Discontinue if allergy occurs.

Interaction & Depletion

Chocolate should not be consumed within 12 hours of having Tc-99m radioimaging scan, including red blood cell labeling. Chocolate intake inhibited the labeling rate, compared with the control condition, and significantly increased the free Tc-99m fraction. [44]


Do not use T. cacao or chocolate if you are at an increased risk for testicular cancer. Various studies in animals reported that T. cacao and theobromine, the main stimulant of T. cacao, exert toxic effects on the testis, inducing testicular atrophy and impaired sperm quality. [45]


No documentation.

Poisonous Management

No documentation.

Line drawing

No documentation.


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