One might say that women sterotypically ‘live by’ theobromine, and I can only imagine how many chocolate bunnies are not going to survive today! If you don’t know what theobromine is you’ve probably guessed it- it’s a bitter compound found in chocolate! The richer, darker (and possibly more expensive) the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains! Theobromine is also found in kola nuts, yerba mate, and in the leaves of green, white, oolong, pu-erh and black teas. Interestingly, there is no theobromine found in coffee, and there is more than ten times more of it in cocoa powder than in teas (source). Theobromine is definitely our friend, when we consume it in moderation, but it is not necessarily the friend of our pets, espcially dogs!
It is molecularly similar to caffeine, which is also bitter and found in chocolate, but excessive consumption of theobromine will not give you shakes and tremors like caffeine because it has little effect on our nervous system. However, it does have other stimulant effects that are similar to caffeine:
- theobromine is a diuretic (increases excretion of water from our bodies and promotes the production of urine) (research study)
- theobromine is a heart stimulant (research study). It has been suggested that theobromine be studied further to treat some heart diseases, angina and high blood pressure (source)
- theobromine lowers blood pressure by stimulating the widening of the blood vessels! (research study)
Theobromine is also a cough suppressant (research study), and it may be even better than codeine! (research study) A new drug, BC 1036, is currently being studied as an alternative to narcotic treatment for coughs! (BBC news story, Fact sheet, trial studies in the US)
Although the above may make you feel less guilty about eating chocolate, remember that the cheaper and lighter chocolates have a lot of other ingredients that are not quite as good for you, and they have much less theobromine. It’s even more important to note that the positive health effects of theobromine are mostly for humans.
You may have heard that chocolate is toxic to dogs- this is because of theobromine! The number of people I have met that think this is a myth is frightening. You may want to spoil your dog, but giving them the opportunity to eat chocolate will spoil them in an unintended way, and it could turn into a nightmare for you. The handsome guy above spent a night at the doggie hospital after eating about 100 grams of dark chocolate that someone had left out over Christmas. Years later he got into a bag of chocolate I had stupidly left within his reach, and my date and I spent an entire day helping him throw up. Talk about an eventful and awful date (definitely a keeper though!). The lethal dose for dogs is about 300 mg of theobromine per kg of dog. When talking to a vet, or calculating the toxicity yourself keep in mind that the darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it has. For lethal doses, check out this Wikipedia page, and for amounts of theobromine in different types of chocolates you can refer to the following studies and this Wikipedia page:
Chocolate Bunnies are by card karma via Flickr
Chocolate Easter Eggs are by Emily Jones (emilywjones) via Flickr
Backlit tea leaf is by Floran Gorgan via Flickr
Green tea leaves are by Stefan Kühn via Wikimedia Commons
Chocolate chips and weiner lounging under the umbrella © Chemicals Are Your Friends