Cocoa Origins and Health Benefits
Cocoa tree or as its botanical name suggests, Theobroma cacao, is a food destined for the consumption of Gods. The Aztecs and the Mayans consumed cocoa by adding it to a ritual beverage at religious ceremonies and believed that it was a sacred plant and they even used cocoa beans as currency. For many years this was a product destined to royalties and the upper-class bourgeoisie, and after the Industrial Revolution, the products made from cocoa have been available to everyone. Since it was first discovered by the Spanish and introduced to the European world, cocoa has known a significant development. It was highly appreciated for both its taste and medicinal properties. At first was consumed in a liquid form, is a bitter beverage and in time it was added sugar and flavors making it tastier. Then it appeared the other appetizing form, chocolate, and its various types. Cocoa is healthy for your cardiovascular system, it can be used to fight against depression and anxiety, and there are some studies which show positive results in treating potentially deadly diseases such as cancer. It is also believed that it can work as a memory enhancer, helping us stay more alert and increasing our cognitive abilities.
Scientists have identified more than 700 compounds in cocoa. Among them, the most beneficial for the human body is considered to be the antioxidant compounds such as those from the polyphenols category: flavonols. Naturally, the antioxidants protect the plant cells from degradation due to exposure to light, air, heat and time. Cocoa contains such flavonols as flavan-3-old, proanthocyanidins, epicatechins, and catechins. In the human body, they protect the cells from reactive oxygen species and can even reduce the risk of developing various diseases and premature aging.
The antioxidants found in cocoa can help us reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases in two ways: first it reduces the oxidation of the so-called bad cholesterol which is believed to be the leading cause of developing heart diseases such as strokes and heart attacks and secondly they inhibit the aggregation of the blood, a process in which the blood platelets clump together. In addition to that cocoa is believed to reduce the levels of the cholesterol in our blood and the daily consumption of cocoa can lower the blood pressure and improve the function of our arteries and veins.
Other compounds found in cocoa beans that are beneficial for our organism are caffeine and theobromine, both part of the methylxanthine’s group. These elements elevate our mood, making us feel happier and more relaxed by raising the levels of serotonin and dopamine in our brain. Cocoa contains small amounts of anandamide, a psychoactive substance similar to those found in cannabis. Like cannabis, but to a lesser extent, cocoa can bring you in a state of euphoria, of deep relaxation. Apart from that, it is believed that cocoa can make us feel more alert and can act as a mild cognitive enhancer.
Cocoa can be considered an aphrodisiac due to its properties. Since the apparition of the first chocolate praline, we associate this candy with the feeling of love and lust. Some people use chocolate as part in their sexual games to increase pleasure and libido. In fact, chocolate contains small quantities of phenethylamine, a powerful mood modifying compound which is naturally produced by our body when we fall in love or during an orgasm. This chemical stimulates the activity of the brain and leads to the release of endorphins and dopamine.
Cocoa has many other benefits to offer for our body if it is consumed on a daily basis. For example, it can help women during menstruation to elevate their moods by increasing the levels of serotonin, the chemical found in our brain which is considered responsible for the state of well being. As we have tried to demonstrate, cocoa is a cocktail of compounds beneficial for our organism on many levels. Apart from that, it is delicious and nutritious. It is indeed the queen of food which stimulates our brain like no other!