Cacao (Theobroma cacao)
The cacao tree is a small evergreen tree native to South America and the West Indies. It can reach a height of 25 feet, although cultivated trees are trimmed to a smaller size. Trees grow straight for four to six feet before branching. The tree produces a fruit with white, sweet, buttery pulp that houses the brown seeds. The seeds of the tree are dried, roasted and processed to make chocolate. The scientific name, Theobroma, actually means "Food of the Gods."
Key Medicinal Uses
Internally Cacao is very high in antioxidants just like blueberries and green tea. Dark chocolate is proving to be an aid to cardiovascular health. It relaxes the arteries to lower blood pressure and promote good blood flow. It prevents plaque from building up in the arteries and has a mild anti-clotting effect. It has been used to dilate the bronchioles during an asthma attack or during severe lung congestion.
Dark chocolate has a low glycemic index, which means that it won't send your blood sugar spiking and plummeting. Dark chocolate helps reduce insulin resistance in diabetics. It contains high amounts of copper, magnesium, potassium and iron. It is a diuretic and a mild stimulant. Some people believe it is an aphrodisiac. It may also have some anti-ulcer properties. The extract may have potential for preventing and dealing with Type 2 diabetes.
Externally Cacao may actually be good for dental health due to antioxidants and other compounds that slow plaque build-up. An extract made from the bean husk has been studied to this effect.
Other Uses Cacao is processed to make all kinds of chocolate used to make candy bars and other confections.
Seeds The seeds or beans of the tree are used medicinally.
Cacao may cause heartburn because it relaxes the valve between the esophagus and the stomach. It does contain some caffeine, so if you are sensitive to caffeine, you may experience insomnia, anxiety, irritability, increased blood pressure or elevated blood sugar. While rare, some people may be allergic to the herb or have some level of sensitivity.
Preparation and Dosage
For the most benefits, find chocolate that is at least 75% pure cacao or use 100% organic non-alkalized powder. A small portion three times a day can reduce irritability, hunger, cravings and depression. These doses should be between meals.
For diabetes, 100 grams of flavonol-rich chocolate is recommended per day. The chocolate should be unsweetened.