What Is Theobromine?
Theobromine is a bitter alkaloid (chemical compound containing nitrogen) belonging to a class of molecules known as methylxanthines, which occurs in over sixty plants. Theobromine is similar to caffeine both in structure and its effects on the body, but ten times weaker. It is found mainly in the seed of the Theobroma cacao plant—and as such present in chocolate.
It is used as a muscle relaxer—particularly as a bronchodilator to relax the muscles in the lungs—and artery dilator for persons who suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension). Theobromine has a half-life of 6-10 hours, so it has a longer time to work in the body.
When taken as a supplement, the standard recommended dosage is 500mg and can be taken any time during the day. The median lethal dose of supplemental theobromine for humans is approximately 1000mg, while that for cats and dogs is 200mg and 300mg respectively.
Facts About Theobromine
- Theobromine is very toxic to cats, dogs and horses; as little as 50mg can be fatal.
- This chemical gets its name from the Greek word Theobroma, which means “food of the gods.”
- The bitter taste of dark chocolate is due to the presence of theobromine.
- It has also been shown that theobromine makes the tooth enamel harder, thereby making it more resistant to decay.
- Another name for theobromine is xantheose.
- Theobromine is known to inducegene mutations in lower eukaryotes and bacteria; however there is not enough evidence to support a carcinogen claim.
- Theobromine is not addictive.
Foods Containing Theobromine
Plant sources of theobromine include Theobroma cacao, kola nut, guanara berry, yerba mate, tea plant, cola acuminate and Arabica coffee. Other sources are cocoa-based products, and these contain varying amounts of theobromine (per 100g):
|Dry Cocoa Powder, Processed With Alkali||2445 mg|
|Unsweetened Dry Cocoa Powder||2057 mg|
|Chocolate Dairy Drink Mix, Sweetened w/Aspartame||833 mg|
|Dark chocolate candies|
(depending on percentage of cocoa solids)
|Low-Calorie Chocolate-Flavored Pudding Mix||596 mg|
Other foods containing theobromine are instant black and green tea drinks made from the plant Camellia sinensis and yerba mate, a tea-like beverage brewed from the plant Ilex paraguariensis. Unsweetened tea mixes contain 40mg theobromine, while saccharine sweetened mixes have 24mg. Decaffeinated instant tea mixes tend to contain the least amount of theobromine: unsweetened, 11mg, and ,saccharine-sweetened, 4mg.
Theobromine is also present in kola nut, which provides the primary flavoring agent in cola drinks.
Food supplements are also a source of Theobromine, providing 350-500mg per dose.
Is Theobromine Ever Bad For You?
The amount of theobromine contained in chocolate and related products is too small to have any toxic effects on humans; however, if consumed in very large amounts it may cause adverse reactions in the elderly or individuals who are pregnant.
The major concern about theobromine is not in humans, but in domestic animals such as dogs and cats, due to fact that they metabolize this chemical much slower than humans. Theobromine poisoning is most common in dogs. Cats are less likely to consume sweet foods like chocolate due to the fact that they have no sweet taste receptors—they are unable to taste sweet foods. Hence they have no affinity for such.
It should be noted that the concentration of theobromine in dark chocolate (10g/kg) is ten times that of milk chocolate (1 to 5g/kg). Those size equivalents now drop to less than one plain M&M of dark chocolate for a small dog, and the nugget size for an average-sized dog.
Symptoms of theobromine poisoning are characterized by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increased urination, cardiac arrhythmias, epileptic seizures, internal bleeding, heart attacks, and eventually death. In dogs the half-life of theobromine is 17.5 hrs, and the symptoms of theobromine poisoning can persist for up to 72 hours.
A veterinarian may administer the following treatment for theobromine poisoning: induced vomiting within the first 2 hours of occurrence; use of medications such as benzodiazepines or barbiturates for seizures; anti-arrhythmics for heart arrhythmias and fluid diuresis.
Symptoms associated with this kind of poisoning for cats are digestive issues, dehydration, excitability and a slow heart rate.
Benefits Of Theobromine
- Theobromine has been used as a vasodilator—widens the blood vessels—and is therefore utilized in reducing high blood pressure. It increases the heart rate and with the effect of widening the blood vessels, the blood pressure is reduced.
- It is also used to treat respiratory conditions such as asthma due to the fact that Theobromine suppresses coughing by inhibiting the afferent (sensory) nerves. Another reason why Theobromine is so effective in treating respiratory conditions is that it diffuses into the lung passages at a higher rate than other drugs, as well as accumulating and staying in the tissues longer, thereby relaxing the muscles.
- It can also function as a heart stimulant.
- Theobromine is also utilized as a diuretic (urination aid), particularly in cases where cardiac failure has resulted in an accumulation of body fluid.
- It is used in the treatment of edema (excessive liquid in parts of the body) and angina pectoris. Angina is the sensation of pain, pressure, or squeezing due to insufficient blood flow to the heart muscle as a result of obstruction or spasm of the coronary arteries. The main cause of angina pectoris is coronary heart disease; however, it may result from anemia, heart rhythms, and heart failure. Theobromine effectively treats these conditions due to its diuretic and vasodilator properties.
- Theobromine is used as an alternative to caffeine as a pre-workout stimulant in popular powder and capsule supplements. Ten times less potent, it has the stimulating properties of caffeine—resulting in improved focus, energy, motivation, and increased ability to concentrate during exercise—without the extreme negative effects associated with caffeine. In addition, Theobromine’s vasodilator properties enhance blood flow to the muscles during and after exercise, improving the muscle pump craved by bodybuilders.
Negative Impact Of Theobromine
How To Minimize Exposure
In order to minimize exposure to Theobromine one would definitely have to avoid cocoa-based foods, chocolate and chocolate products, coca cola beverages and instant teas (black and green teas) made from Camellia sinensis and Ilex paraguariensis plants.
Theobromine supplements are also a major source; therefore, avoidance of such is highly recommended for susceptible individuals.
Should You Worry About Theobromine?
The effects of Theobromine is mostly beneficial and its negative impact effects are mostly felt by susceptible individuals—elderly and persons who are pregnant—but in general Theobromine can be consumed safely.
In elderly men, there is a correlation between Theobromine and prostate cancer.
Persons who are pregnant should be very careful as not to consume foods rich in Theobromine or supplements as exposure may result in fetal hypospadias—a birth abnormality of the urethra where the urinary opening is not at the usual location on the head of the penis—and/or testicular cancer.
Theobromine may be used as a mild stimulant with no adverse reactions; however, care should be taken when pregnant. The side effects in humans are generally mild, but they are long lasting due to the very long half-life. Foods rich in Theobromine should be monitored when dealing with the elderly, and extreme care and due diligence should be exercised to ensure that accidental exposure to these foods does not occur with pets, especially dogs.