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Cocoa COCOA  

Botanical:  Theobroma cacao
Family:  Sterculiaceae (sterculia)
Other common names:  Cacao, Chocolate Tree, Cocoa Tree

If you thought Cocoa was just delicious chocolate, think again!  It has been used for thousands of years as a healing agent.  More importantly, modern science claims that it is good for your heart and arteries, good for your skin, has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine and up to three times those found in Green Tea.  Taken as a dietary supplement in capsule form, you can add all its health benefits without the added fat and calories.

The information presented herein by Herbal Extracts Plus is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

The Cocoa (or Cacao) tree is a native of Central America's tropical rainforests and South America's Amazon basin, and it has been cultivated for two thousand years.  The "Chocolate Tree" is a widely-branched evergreen that bears leathery, lance-shaped leaves and pink or creamy flowers that grow directly on the trunk or main branches and develop into woody, football-shaped fruits.  Embedded within the pulp of each fruit are about fifty bitter seeds - the Cocoa beans.  The tree is cultivated as a crop throughout the world in warm climates, thriving in fertile, moist, well-drained soil in shade and may reach forty feet in height.  Cocoa prefers high humidity and shelter from the wind in a minimum of sixty-one degrees Fahrenheit.  Long before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, Mesoamerican Indians created a drink from crushed Cocoa beans mixed with a variety of spices, and it was reserved as a special drink for ceremonial rites and Mayan rulers. The Aztecs created a "divine" drink called chocolatl, and the Emperor, Montezuma, is said to have sent Cocoa, along with gold and silver, as gifts for the explorer, Hernan Cortes, when he arrived in Mexico.  Cocoa beans were not only a valuable commodity, but they were also used as currency among the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs. The Aztecs employed Cocoa in herbal medicines as a drink mixture to travel great distances without fatigue, to stimulate the bowels in cases of constipation, to calm an upset stomach and to help ease mild headaches due to slight fevers. The Mayans made a cocoa paste that was employed to treat wounds, skin eruptions and burns and to assist healing without scarring, and this medicine is still employed by their descendants in the Guatemalan Highlands.  The Spaniards carried Cocoa back to Europe, and when sweetened with sugar, vanilla, cinnamon or honey, it was drunk hot; and in Spain, Cocoa was a drink served only to royalty.  Cocoa spread slowly across the royal courts of Europe, and by the seventeenth century, it became an expensive luxury reserved only for the upper classes.  Cocoa's botanical name was given to us by the Swedish botanist and founder of our Latin binomial system of naming plants, Carl Linnaeus, who christened the chocolate plant Theobroma cacao, which is a literal translation from Greek, meaning "Cocoa - Food of the Gods."   The Swiss contributed most to the refinement of chocolate as we know it today, isolating the various elements of the Cocoa bean into Cocoa powder and Cocoa butter, also developing milk chocolate and a smoother texture.  The beans (which contain more than fifty percent fat) are fermented, dried, roasted and ground as a paste (Cocoa mass), and Cocoa butter is extracted from this, leaving the powder.  The yellowish Cocoa butter that is rendered is unlike most fats in that it is not greasy, has a pleasant odor, and does not easily become rancid and is thus prized for use in soaps, cosmetics, toiletries and soothing ointments.  The fat-free residue is Cocoa powder, and when sweetened, it is the warming, energizing drink and confection that we so revere.  Cocoa is immensely valuable commercially as a flavoring for foods, liqueurs, a suppository base and a nutritional support; and aside from its use as a food, science has discovered that Cocoa is beneficial for health.  It possesses nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine and up to three times those found in Green Tea.  Some of the constituents in Cocoa include an alkaloid (theobromine), mannose, alpha-  and beta-sitosterol, beta-carotene, citric acid, vitamin C, B-vitamins, vitamin E, potassium, mucilage, phosphorus, iron, tannins, vitexin, salicylate, valerianic acid, essential oil, flavonoids (particularly monomeric flavanol (-)epicatechin, and catechin, quercetin, quercitrin, rutin), caffeine, acetic acid, arginine, stearic acid, glycerin, oleic acid, linoleic acid, linolenic acid, luteolin, lysine, mannose, nicotinic acid, lecithin, nitrogen, oligomeric proanthocyanidins, p-coumaric acid, pectin, serotonin, phelylalanine and tryptophan.

Beneficial Uses:
Cocoa is considered a myocardial stimulant and considered excellent for heart health. The oleic acid content is a monounsaturated fat (also found in olive oil) and is thought to raise good cholesterol (HDL), and the flavonoids decrease bad cholesterol (LDL), as well as inhibit blood platelet aggregation (clotting), which can lead to arteriosclerosis, stroke and heart attack.

Further supporting cardiac health, Cocoa is said to be a fine vasodilator and good in cases of hypertension and angina.  The theobromine content is said to enlarge the constricted blood vessels that are common in hypertensive people and will thus lower blood pressure and increase blood circulation.  In addition, its high potassium content is also said to help lower blood pressure levels and hold them in check, and Cocoa's magnesium is another one of the minerals that most supports the heart and may help to reduce blood pressure.  A 2009 study conducted in the University of Madrid and published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that hypertensive mice fed antioxidant-rich chocolate experienced blood pressure drops similar to that achievable with Captopril, a pharmaceutical anti-hypertensive.  In 2010, scientists at the University of South Australia, found that overweight and obese people who consumed Cocoa had a fourteen percent reduction in blood pressure after exercising and a 6.1 percent increase in flow-mediated dilation, a measure of a blood vessel's healthy ability to relax. Additional research (2012) from Australia's Monash University found that long term consumption of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate (at least 69% Cocoa) could slash the risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, in people with metabolic syndrome and that daily consumption could be an effective cardiovascular preventative strategy in this population. (Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of factors that increases the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.)

Cocoa's theobromine is said to act as a diuretic, helping to increase the flow urine.  As such, it may be useful when there is an accumulation of fluid in the body, particularly in cases of cardiac failure.

Cocoa has been used for thousands of years as a stimulant to combat fatigue.  It contains caffeine (although not as much as coffee) and theobromine, which is actually the ingredient that provides the body with a burst of quick energy and gives a tired body a physical boost that is said to last several hours.  Theobromine is an herbal 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, whereas caffeine has a strong, immediate effect.  Cocoa's stimulating effect is the reason why soldiers have carried chocolate into battle from the U. S. Civil War to modern times.

Cornell University studies found that Cocoa has twice the antioxidants of red wine, and up to three times those found in green tea, helping the body to ward off malignant diseases.

Cocoa is believed to stimulate brain function.  Again, its magnesium content (a mineral deficient in many people's diet) is a key to proper brain performance.  It helps to create ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the fuel for the brain.

Some researchers claim that Cocoa improves one's frame of mind and may be an aphrodisiac. It contains small amounts of a chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA) that is a mild mood elevator.  It's the same chemical that our brain produces and emits when we feel happy or "in love" or when the libido is stimulated. The mild "rush" we get from this substance may be why some people say they're "addicted" to chocolate.  One New York City psychiatrist claimed that romantically depressed people tend to crave chocolates because their PEA levels are low, and the Cocoa in chocolate gives them a PEA boost.  Recent research has also found that Cocoa has a soothing effect on troubled minds, and interestingly, one study has shown that its aroma may actually relax you by increasing theta waves in the brain.

Chocolate may ease migraines:  In 2009, scientists from Missouri State University reported that consuming a diet enriched with ten percent Cocoa increased levels of anti-inflammatory compounds in the brain, which may repress inflammatory responses linked to migraine headaches.  The Cocoa repressed levels of acute and chronic pro-inflammatory processes and appeared to be the first evidence for the use of Cocoa as a dietary supplement to cause an up-regulation of anti-inflammatory proteins and cytokines within trigeminal ganglia (which play a role in migraines).

The theobromine in Cocoa has recently been found to have an antitussive effect that inhibits the cough reflex and helps to stop coughing.

Cocoa may alter the effects of time and sun exposure on skin health. A study suggests that a chemical from Cocoa protects skin from the damaging effects of sun exposure and prevents the skin from ageing.  Flavonoids, a group of antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, as well as in Cocoa, tea and red wine, might be especially potent skin protectors. In 2006, the Journal of Nutrition published a study on the effects of Cocoa flavonoids on skin health. The skin of the subjects consuming high-flavanol Cocoa was more tolerant to ultraviolet light exposure after six to twelve weeks. What’s more, skin quality improved in the women consuming high-flavanol Cocoa, roughness and scaling diminished, and the skin was thicker, denser and better hydrated by the end of the study. This was the first study to suggest that Cocoa flavanols might protect the skin and thereby prevent skin melanoma. In 2015, a further study conducted by scientists from South Korea's Seoul National University found that high flavonol Cocoa consumption has a significant positive impact on facial wrinkles and skin elasticity in photo-aged (sun damaged) women.

Used externally, (as Cocoa butter) it softens skin, soothes and heals damaged skin, chapped skin and burns and is said to smooth skin wrinkles.

Suggested Reading
Chocolate "Offenders" Teach Science a Sweet Lesson
Study helps explain heart benefits from daily - but small - dose of Chocolate
- From the Johns Hopkins Medicine website - 11/14/06
According to Diane Becker, M.P.H., Sc.D., a professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, a chemical in Cocoa Beans has a biochemical effect similar to aspirin in reducing platelet clumping, which can be fatal if a clot forms and blocks a blood vessel, causing a heart attack.  As little as two tablespoons a day of dark chocolate - the purest form of the candy, made from the dried extract of roasted Cocoa Beans - may be just what the doctor ordered.

People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome should not use Cocoa Herbal Supplement, and it may also cause allergies.  Although there is little evidence that Cocoa can cause headaches, some studies suggest that it may trigger certain headaches, specifically in migraine sufferers.

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