Kids' Health

A spoonful of ... chocolate?
December 29, 2012 at 11:18 AM

A spoonful of ... chocolate? Cacao has a history of medicinal use

While many recent studies have suggested that chocolate might be good for you, there also is a long history of cacao being used as medicine.

Philip K. Wilson and W. Jeffrey Hurst delved into the history of chocolate for their book, “Chocolate as Medicine: A Quest Over the Centuries,” released in October. They studied word-of-mouth traditions in ancient Mesoamericans — the people living in the region from roughly central Mexico to parts of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua — early medical case reports from the 17th and 18th centuries and early nutritionist literature.

Wilson is a professor of humanities and the director of The Doctors of Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine, and Hurst is a principal scientist at Hershey Foods Technical Center and an adjunct professor of comparative medicine at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Evidence shows that documented chocolate use dates to 1800 B.C. (“Before Chocolate” as Hurst jokingly calls it) in Mexico. Thanks to the Spanish explorers, its use spread around the world in the following centuries, eventually leading many companies — including The Hershey Co. — to advertise the health benefits of their chocolate products.

Today, modern science is taking a look at historical claims.

“We still see a lot of indigenous healers around the world using cacao,” Wilson said. “There are now chapters on chocolate in books on integrative medicine.”

Integrative medicine is a combination of mainstream medical practices and complimentary and alternative medicine.

In addition to the purported mood-enhancing effects — which research supports — and the use of cocoa butter as an emollient, here we take a look at a few of the historical medicinal uses and current areas of study mentioned in “Chocolate as Medicine.” 

Have you heard of any of these or other uses for chocolate?


  • PrincessZ20
    December 29, 2012 at 8:29 PM

    Quoting Vertical15:

    Cheat sheet

    Cocoa, cacao, chocolate — what’s the difference? Hurst said he used to call everything cocoa until a colleague at a Society of American Archaeology meeting corrected him. “When it’s on the tree, in the pods and being processed it’s cacao,” Hurst said. 

    • Theobroma cacao is the botanical name for the chocolate tree. 
    • Theobromine is a news-making compound found in cacao that is similar to caffeine. Its possible health benefits are being investigated.
    • Cacao pods contain a sweet pulp and seeds. The seeds are used to make cocoa, chocolate and cocoa butter.
    • Not all chocolate is created equal. According to the Cleveland Clinic website, “Cocoa naturally has a very strong, pungent taste, which comes from the flavanols. When cocoa is processed into your favorite chocolate products, it goes through several steps to reduce this taste. The more chocolate is processed (through things like fermentation, alkalizing, roasting, etc.), the more flavanols are lost.”

    Neat!  I can definitely tell a difference in the quality of various chocolates, but never really considered why they tasted different.  The level of processing could explain it!

  • egyptian_mommy
    December 29, 2012 at 8:59 PM
    It's still the 'cure' for PMS. lol

    Quoting Vertical15:

    ‘Female complaints’

    In their research, Wilson and Hurst came across references to chocolate with iron shavings being used to treat women’s “hysteria” and “female complaints.” Scottish physician William Buchan, author of the 1796 reference “Domestic Physician,” noted that chocolate was also a preventive for “fainting fits.” The book also cites William Hughes’ who in “The American Physitian” claims that chocolate “may be proper for some breeding Women, and those persons that are Hypochondriacal, and Melancholly [sic].” 

  • egyptian_mommy
    December 29, 2012 at 9:00 PM
    I believe it.

    Quoting Vertical15:

    Restorative qualities

    Over the centuries, chocolate has been touted as a natural way to regain strength and energy. Ancient Mesoamerican soldiers were known to carry cacao to fortify them for fighting and travel.

    “The warriors would take cacao and mix it with some cornmeal and maybe some spices and other things and make what I jokingly call a hockey puck,” Hurst said. “Euphemistically we call it the first energy bar.”

    Chocolate’s reputation as a restorative has earned it a place on many battlefields. According to the Hershey Community Archives, The Hershey Co. manufactured special powdered chocolate bars for soldiers during World War II, including one designed to hold its shape at higher temperatures. In 1990, Hershey’s introduced the Desert Bar, which accompanied astronauts to the moon on Apollo 15 and soldiers in Desert Storm.

  • egyptian_mommy
    December 29, 2012 at 9:01 PM
    This is interesting. And good news for chocolate lovers with a breathing issue like... me.

    Quoting Vertical15:

    Improved breathing

    “The use of chocolate in all of its forms has been promoted to improve shortness of breath to treating and perhaps even curing — some of the literature would have argued — serious lung ailments like TB,” Wilson said.

    A 2004 study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology found that theobromine, a compound found in cacao beans that is closely related to caffeine, was an effective antitussive, or cough suppressant. 

  • egyptian_mommy
    December 29, 2012 at 9:02 PM
    Very good to know. Maybe the bp thing is why many people feel calmer after eating chocolate.

    Quoting Vertical15:

    Heart health

    Cacao beans are rich in flavonoids, plant nutrients with antioxidant properties. Research shows that flavanols, the flavonoids in cacao, can help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to both the brain and heart. Hurst cited the work of Harvard University research scientist Eric Ding, who found that cacao decreased “bad” LDL cholesterol among people under age 50, and increased good HDL cholesterol. 

  • egyptian_mommy
    December 29, 2012 at 9:02 PM
    I have to say I ♥ this post. And now I want some yummy dark chocolate.
  • TigerofMu
    December 30, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    I have.  I believe the key words are "a spoonful" and "moderation" :), which I certainly struggle with relating to chocolate :).

  • Vertical15
    December 31, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    I have the same problem!  LoL

    Quoting TigerofMu:

    I have.  I believe the key words are "a spoonful" and "moderation" :), which I certainly struggle with relating to chocolate :).

  • sunshine86912
    January 2, 2013 at 8:39 AM

     no..but I will take a spoonful of chocolate..but I am sure bat(cant think of the whole SN or her name currently) will go for this lol

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