Foods containing theobromine may help you in your weight-loss efforts, as it is a mild stimulant and can improve insulin sensitivity. Be mindful, however, that theobromine is most commonly found in chocolate, which will probably undermine your fat-burning goals. The word "theobromine" comes from Greek words meaning “food of the gods.” As a “feel-good” ingredient found in cocoa products, that may well describe the substance; theobromine is best known for its mood-elevating properties.
Theobromine is a bitter alkaloid that resembles caffeine in its chemical structure and partly in the way it behaves in the body. It is made from the seed of Theobroma cacao, but it can also be synthetically manufactured. It is widely used as a muscle relaxer and artery dilator for people with high blood pressure. Theobromine stays in the body for a long time. About half of what you consume will take seven to eight hours to pass through, giving it more time to act in the body.
Theobromine belongs to a class of molecules called methylxanthines, which are found in more than 60 different species of plants all over the world. Cocoa beans can contain up to 1,200 mg of theobromine per ounce, and it is therefore a major ingredient in chocolate. Dark chocolate usually has more theobromine than milk chocolate, and white chocolate has none. Theobromine is also found in smaller concentrations in coffee, tea and kola nuts.
Theobromine is a mild stimulant and diuretic. Both of these properties can aid weight loss by giving you a little energy boost for physical activity and helping you shed water weight. Theobromine can also help suppress your appetite.
Because theobromine doesn’t act on your central nervous system the same way caffeine does, its effects are noticeably milder, so you may not find it to be as effective as you desire. When compared with its close cousins caffeine and theophylline, theobromine consistently ranks last in terms of metabolic aid. However, theobromine doesn’t produce the withdrawal symptoms of caffeine.
Much of the research on theobromine is dated. In a study published in the January 1984 issue of the journal “Acta Pharmacologica et Toxicologica,” theobromine was not considered effective at reducing food intake and inducing fat loss in mice, and in other studies in people, few participants were even able to tell whether they had received theobromine or a placebo unless they were given theobromine in significantly higher doses. Practically speaking, it’s a double-edged sword. To get the weight-loss effect of theobromine naturally, you’d have to eat copious amounts of dark chocolate, which contain far too many calories and fat to be useful for that purpose.
Insulin Sensitivity Activation
Where theobromine may show some weight-related effects is in people who have insulin-resistance issues. In a study published in the March 2005 issue of the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” healthy participants were given dark chocolate -- which contain high amounts of theobromine -- for 15 days, and then switched to white chocolate, which contains none. Researchers found that dark chocolate significantly improved insulin sensitivity, which is an important aid in controlling body weight. The authors said they were hopeful that larger-scale studies would test theobromine and other flavonol-containing foods in individuals who have insulin resistance, including people who are obese.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Short-Term Administration of Dark Chocolate is Followed by a Significant Increase in Insulin Sensitivity
- The European Nutrigenomics Organisation: Theobromine
- British Journal of Pharmacology: Effects of Caffeine, Theophylline & Theobromine on Scheduled Controlled Responding
- Drug Metabolism & Disposition: Comparison of Theophylline and Theobromine Metabolism in Man
- Acta Pharmacologica et Toxicologica: The Effect of Alkylxanthines on Adenosine-Receptor Mediated Decrease in Lipolysis