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Theobromine and Caffeine: A Comparison

Theobromine, also known as xantheose, is a stimulant similar to caffeine that is found in chocolate, tea, the cola nut and other foods. Like caffeine, it is metabolized in the liver. Theobromine and caffeine are two structurally related methylxanthines that energize the body but they have noticably different effects. A comparison between the two follows below.

Gentle Intense
Mild effect Strong effect
Very slow onset Fast-acting
Long-lasting Rapid dissipation
50% in bloodstream after 6 to 10 hours 50% in bloodstream after 2 to 5 hours
Increases feeling of well being Increases alertness
Mild antidepressant Increases emotional stress
Gentle, smooth, sensual stimulation Jagged, nervous stimulation
Stimulates cardiovascular system Stimulates cardiovascular system
Stimulates muscular system Stimulates respiratory system
Mild effect on central nervous system Strong effect on central nervous system
Almost no one is allergic Many people are allergic
Not addictive Mildly addictive
No withdrawal symptoms Many documented withdrawal symptoms
Mild diuretic Extreme diuretic
Stimulates the the kidneys Requires large intake of fluids to balance the diuretic effect

There are a number of serious health problems associated with caffeine — most of which have not been associated with theobromine — including heart trouble, stress and dehydration headaches. In addition, studies have demonstrated a link between caffeine and decreased sperm count (in rats), and cite caffeine as a factor in 2 percent of miscarriages.

Theobromine has been patented as a future cancer preventative. It is employed in modern medicine as a vasodilator, a urination aid and as a heart stimulant. It has been distinguished as one of the compounds contributing to chocolate’s reputation as an aphrodisiac. Nevertheless, it can cause sleeplessness, anxiety and loss of appetite. Because some animals metabolize theobromine very slowly (such as dogs, cats, birds and horses), it can be toxic and even fatal when ingested. However, theobromine poisoning is treatable if caught early.