The Effects of Chocolate on Asthma (or reasons to consume chocolate)
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I’m going to give you an excuse to consume some more chocolate. Worded another way, I’m going to teach you the effects of chocolate on asthma. When I’m done you can use this as an excuse to eat up — if you want.

Chocolate is a mild bronchodilator

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which contain theobromine, which — like caffeine and theophylline — is a mild bronchodilator.

Let that sink in a minute.

There was actually a study done showing that theobromine and caffeine both produced a peak bronchodilator effect within two hours, and this effect lasted six hours.1

Pretty neat, hey?

Both theobromine and caffeine are also related to theophylline, which is a bronchodilator. Theophylline was also a top-line asthma medicine during the 1970’s and into the 1990’s. Keep in mind, however, that while theobromine and caffeine are bronchodilators, this effect, if realized at all, is only mild. So, this is not to say that you should be eating chocolate instead of seeking actual treatment.

That said, I have another interesting tidbit about theobromine.

One study showed that 300 mg of theobromine was effective in preventing a cough. Some suggested that it was more useful for treating cough than codeine, mainly because codeine can become addicting (well, more so than chocolate).2 To put this into perspective, let’s take a look at the experts in Chocolate. The Hershey Company estimates that a 43 gram Hershey’s milk chocolate bar contains 9 mg of caffeine and 64 mg of theobromine. One teaspoon of their chocolate syrup contains 5 mg caffeine and 64 mg theobromine. Nine milk chocolate Hershey’s Kisses contain 10 mg caffeine and 68 mg theobromine.3 Despite this study, researchers were unable to determine whether eating chocolate could produce this same cough suppressant benefit. Perhaps they could invite some of us to participate in a chocolate eating study to determine how much chocolate is needed to suppress coughs. I don’t think there would be any trouble finding subjects. We will just make it known that we don’t want to participate in the control side of this study. The control group gets to eat no chocolate (or fake chocolate). This is needed so the researchers have something to compare with. We don’t want any part in this. We want to eat actual chocolate.

Caffeine can help too

And I have one more interesting tidbit.

Caffeine is metabolized (broken down) in the liver to produce small amounts of theophylline and theobromine. So, another way to get the benefits of theobromine is to consume products that contain caffeine, which include coffee, tea, cola drinks, and cocoa.4,5 So, this gives you an excuse to consume those chocolate flavored coffee drinks that you love. It gives you an excuse to finally eat the chocolate Easter bunny that you are hiding, waiting for that perfect moment to consume.

Interestingly, the University of Michigan (gotta love them) even list dark chocolate as one of the essential foods as a part of their “Healing Foods Pyramid.” Along with increasing mental acuity and the other benefits of xanthines, dark chocolate also contains antioxidants and flavonoids6, which, as I explain in my post, “Can Your Diet Improve Asthma,” may help you obtain ideal asthma control.

In fact, they recommend 7 ounces of dark chocolate every week, or an average of 1 ounce per day.

view references
  1. Simons, F. Estelle R, et al., “The bronchodilator effect and pharmacokinetics of theobromine in young patients with asthma,” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Pharmacology, 1985, December, 76(5):703-7, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/19106199_The_bronchodilator_effect_and_pharmacokinetics_of_theobromine_in_young_patients_with_asthma, accessed 4/7/17
  2. Martinez, Pinilla, Eva, et al., “The relevance of theobromine for the beneficial effects of cocoa consumption,” Frontiers in Pharmacology, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4335269/, accessed 4/7/17
  3. “Caffeine and Theobromine,” The Hershey’s Company, http://64.106.173.203/our-ingredients/what-we-believe/ingredient-information/ingredient-topics/caffeine-theobromine.aspx, accessed 4/8/17
  4. Utoh, M., et al, “Monkey liver cytochrome P450 2C9 is involved in caffeine 7-N-demethylation to form theophylline,” Xenobiotica, 2013, December, 43 (12),https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23679834, accessed 4/7/17
  5. Gu, L., et al., “Biotransformation of caffeine, paraxanthine, theobromine and theophylline by cDNA-expressed human CYP1A2 and CYP2E1,” Pharmacogenetics, 1992, April, 2 (2), pages 73-77, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1302044, accessed 4/7/17
  6. “Healing Foods Pyramid,” University of Michigan Integrative Medicine, UofMHealth.org, http://www.med.umich.edu/umim/food-pyramid/dark_chocolate.html, accessed 4/22/17
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