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What other names is Cocoa known by?

3,7-dihydro-3,7-dimethyl-1h-purine-2 6-dione, Beurre de Cacao, Cacao, Chocolat, Chocolat Noir, Chocolate, Cocoa Bean, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Oleum, Cocoa Seed, Cocoa Semen, Cocoa Testae, Dark Chocolate, Dutch Chocolate, Fève de Cacao, Graine de Cacao, Theobroma, Theobroma cacao, Theobroma sativum, Theobromine, Théobromine.

What is Cocoa?

Cocoa is the plant from which chocolate is made. Bitter chocolate is produced by pressing roasted cocoa kernels (seeds) between hot rollers. Cocoa powder is produced by squeezing the fat (cocoa butter) from bitter chocolate and powdering the remaining material. Sweet chocolate is produced by adding sugar and vanilla to bitter chocolate. White chocolate contains sugar, cocoa butter, and milk solids.

Long regarded as a food treat, cocoa is now used by some people as medicine. Cocoa seed is used for infectious intestinal diseases and diarrhea, asthma, bronchitis, and as an expectorant for lung congestion. The seed coat is used for liver, bladder, and kidney ailments; diabetes; as a tonic; and as a general remedy. Cocoa butter is used for high cholesterol.

You've probably heard the buzz about the possible heart health benefits of chocolate, especially dark chocolate. In fact, the candy company Mars, Inc., plans to seek a health claim for chocolate from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the next few years based on research they sponsored regarding the potential role of cocoa flavonoids in cardiovascular health. Flavonoids are chemicals that might lower blood pressure. Dark chocolate contains more flavonoids than milk chocolate or white chocolate. Mars, Inc. is also sponsoring research to see if cocoa flavonoids can help reduce age-related memory decline.

Some people apply cocoa butter to the skin to treat wrinkles and to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy.

In manufacturing, cocoa butter is used as a base for various ointments and suppositories made by drug companies.

Don't confuse cocoa with coca leaf (Erythroxylon coca).

Possibly Effective for...

  • High blood pressure. Most research shows that eating dark chocolate or cocoa products for 2-18 weeks can lower the top number in a blood pressure reading (systolic blood pressure) by 2.8-4.7 mmHg and the lower number (diastolic blood pressure) by 1.9-2.8 mmHg in people with normal blood pressure or high blood pressure.

Possibly Ineffective for...

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Heart disease. Some research suggests that healthy elderly men who eat a large amount of cocoa from dietary sources have a lower average blood pressure compared to those who eat less. The chocolate eaters also have a lower risk of death from heart disease and all causes. Also, eating cocoa or chocolate seems to improve the function of the inner lining (endothelium) of blood vessels, which might reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome. Early research suggests that consuming 45 grams of chocolate daily for 8 weeks can reduce fatigue, anxiety, and depression and increase the overall ability to function in people with chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Cirrhosis. Research suggests that consuming a liquid meal (Ensure Plus) in addition to dark chocolate (Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa, Lindt & Sprungl Espana) can improve liver function in people with cirrhosis.
  • Mental function. Evidence on the effects of cocoa for improving mental function is not consistent. Some research shows that cocoa might improve some aspects of mental function. Other research suggests no benefit.
  • Constipation. Early research suggests that taking cocoa husks and beta-fructosans daily can reduce hard stools in children with constipation.
  • Diabetes. Early research suggests that cocoa might reduce insulin resistance and improve sensitivity. However, cocoa does not appear to affect blood sugar levels.
  • Insect repellant. Early research suggests that applying cocoa oil to the skin reduces black fly insect bites.
  • High blood pressure in which only the first number (systolic pressure) is too high (isolated systolic hypertension). Early research suggests that eating 100 grams of dark chocolate that is rich in cocoa flavonoids daily might slightly reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure in elderly people with isolated systolic hypertension.
  • Parkinson's disease. Early research suggests that eating 200 mg of dark chocolate does not improve movement in people with Parkinson's disease.
  • Weight loss. Early research suggests that following a reduced-calorie diet, eating two squares of dark chocolate, and drinking a sugar-free cocoa beverage daily for 18 weeks does not increase weight loss.
  • Intestinal disease.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Asthma.
  • Bronchitis.
  • Lung congestion.
  • Liver.
  • Bladder and kidney ailments.
  • Preventing wrinkles.
  • Preventing stretch marks during pregnancy.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of cocoa for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

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