The Calming Effect of Cocoa

Cocoa is a refreshing hot drink that contains the methylxanthine theobromine. Methylxanthines are considered stimulants, but theobromine is perhaps the least stimulating of the methylxanthines found in nature. For example, the caffeine in tea and coffee, and the theophylline in tea are considered more stimulating. Cocoa is often considered a drink that can be drunk before bed and anecdotal evidence suggests that it can aid sleep, despite the presence of methylxanthines. The calming effects of cocoa may stem from the proanthocyanidin polyphenols present in the drink. For example, in one study, researcher administered cocoa to healthy subjects which contained either 500 mg, 250 mg or 0 mg of polyphenols. At the highest dose, there was a significant increase in the calmness of the subjects, although no cognitive effects were detected. This data suggests that cocoa has a calming effect on the consumer and this may make it a useful treatment for anxiety or other related mood disorders such as panic attacks.  

cocoa anxiety depression

Cocoa polyphenols appear to have a calming effect on mood. However, cocoa may also be calming for other reasons. Hot drinks tend to be calming by nature, and evidence also suggest that warm milk may have calming effects. Therefore a combination of factors may account for the calming effects of hot cocoa.

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Pase, M. P., Scholey, A. B., Pipingas, A., Kras, M., Nolidin, K., Gibbs, A. Wasnes, K. and Stough, C. 2013. Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Psychopharmacology.  27(5): 451-458

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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