The Science of Cacao
Ceremonial-grade cacao isn't just a delicious beverage for the spiritually inclined. Though often mystical in nature, the scientific evidence backing cacao's blissful effects are far less speculative, yet just as profound. Ceremonial-grade cacao is loaded with unique plant compounds known for their beneficial effects on human physiology, especially the heart, brain, and body. These compounds have been well researched amongst scientists and academics. While they all work together to produce cacao's ceremonial effects, exploring these compounds individually is the best way to properly grasp just how profound ceremonial drinking chocolate can be.
1. Theobromine: hence the scientific name, theobroma cacao. Theobromine is one of the finest members of an alkaloid class of compounds known as xanthines. Theobromine has been proven to lower blood pressure, increase serum HDL cholesterol (the good kind), and enhance lung functioning by opening up air vessels via smooth muscle relaxation. Theobromine also enhances cognitive function by increasing blood flow and oxygenation to the brain and doubles as an antioxidant capable of mitigating oxidative stress and reducing inflammation. For those that love to exercise, theobromine also blocks adenosine receptors, enabling a short-term increase in muscular contractility.
2. Tryptophan: An essential amino acid and the sole precursor for the neurotransmitter serotonin, commonly known as the "feel-good chemical." Serotonin is well known for its ability to combat stress and improve our mood by promoting the feelings of comfort, contentment, happiness, and relaxation. Serotonin can also improve sleep, provide relief from the symptoms of depression and anxiety, modulate pain thresholds, and increase our sense of emotional well-being.
3. Phenylethylamine (PEA): better known as "the love drug" for its association with infatuation, this is the compound your brain releases naturally when you're falling in love. PEA stimulates the central nervous system to release the body's natural opium-like compounds called endorphins. This is somewhat similar to the sensation of orgasm. PEA also signals the body to promote the sensation of alertness, focus, and mental acuity, all while elevating one's mood, speeding up metabolism, and boosting memory.
4. Anandamide: Sanskrit word meaning the "bliss molecule," Anadamide is best known for its role in producing the feeling of happiness. Anandamide is an endogenous cannabinoid found naturally in cacao and the human brain. While anandamide won't leave you in a mind-altered state, its happiness producing effect does offer some protection against stress-related psychiatric diseases including major depression, generalized anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anandamide also plays a role in memory, appetite, sleep, and pain relief.
5. Magnesium: every cell in the body contains this mineral and requires it to function. Magnesium helps increase energy, calms nerves, aids in digestion, and relieves muscle aches and pains (among a whole host of other benefits).
6. Copper: a mineral required for biological processes such as iron transport, glucose metabolism, and infant growth and brain development.
We could go on touting the health benefits of ceremonial-grade cacao, but to save you your sanity (and us ours), we'll simply sum it all up with this epic quote:
"After water, cacao is the single healthiest substance you can put in your mouth. It can easily replace a number of psychiatric drugs for mood, plus it produces the same chemistry in the brain that occurs when we fall in love." - Chris Kilham, WellBella