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Psychopharmacology of theobromine in healthy volunteers

Abstract

Background

Theobromine, a methylxanthine related to caffeine and present in high levels in cocoa, may contribute to the appeal of chocolate. However, current evidence for this is limited.

Objectives

We conducted a within-subjects placebo-controlled study of a wide range of oral theobromine doses (250, 500, and 1,000 mg) using an active control dose of caffeine (200 mg) in 80 healthy participants.

Results

Caffeine had the expected effects on mood including feelings of alertness and cardiovascular parameters. Theobromine responses differed according to dose; it showed limited subjective effects at 250 mg and negative mood effects at higher doses. It also dose-dependently increased heart rate. In secondary analyses, we also examined individual differences in the drug’s effects in relation to genes related to their target receptors, but few associations were detected.

Conclusions

This study represents the highest dose of theobromine studied in humans. We conclude that theobromine at normal intake ranges may contribute to the positive effects of chocolate, but at higher intakes, effects become negative.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by Unilever R and D. Additional support from T32 MH020065 (MJB), DA02812 (HdW), T32 DA007255 (ABH), and DA021336 (AAP).

Author information

Correspondence to Harriet de Wit.

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Baggott, M.J., Childs, E., Hart, A.B. et al. Psychopharmacology of theobromine in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology 228, 109–118 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-013-3021-0

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Keywords

  • Theobromine
  • Caffeine
  • Genetics
  • Subjective
  • Cognitive
  • Healthy volunteers