How chocolate is used for healing in the past and present

History of Chocolate Timeline

The beginning of chocolate is the cacao tree, known by ethnobotanists as "theobroma cacao." According to the article, "Introduction: Chocolate’s History at a Glance," chocolate in its raw state grows in a pod like a pea, but on trees 40-60 feet tall. Cacao is native to the tropics of America. Ancient Mayans called chocolate or cacao in its bitter, raw state "food of the spirits." The caco tree has wide branches and grows wild in Central and South America, Africa, and in the tropical parts of Asia since prehistoric times.

Archaeologists have dated cacao as chocolate being eaten by the Mayan Indians of Mexico as early as 600 CE. The cocoa bean had been worshipped by the Mayans as a heavenly gift. The beans were put on a pedestal and worshipped as an idol. In its raw form, chocolate is more addictive than heroin. Scientists currently study how chocolate addiction changes the brain, and which chemicals are released by the brain by eating chocolate.

Those powers in cacao beans were said to be magical by the Maya. The beans played a distinctive role in rituals, healings, and religious worship. Today scientists study the healing powers of chocolate or cacao nibs and its powers as a stimulant.

Cacao beans were used historically for their medicinal powers to heal fevers, coughs, and pregnancy discomforts such as morning sickness.

The patron deity of cacao (and coco) merchants is the Maya spirit-god called Ykchaua. How the Mayans prepared cocoa as a healing medicinal was to drink hot cocoa in its bitter state without adding sweeteners. The bitter stimulant was made of crushed, ground cacao pods, beans, and nibs with added spices native to the tropics in the local area. An example would be chili peppers and chocolate drank as a bitter hot beverage.

In the northern part of Mexico, Aztecs began to sweeten chocolate with vanilla beans and thick, raw, creamed, unfiltered honey. The sweetened chocolate drink had the name xocoati, which they pronounced chocolatel. The translation is "bitter water." The Aztec’s explanation is that Questzalcoatl, their deity reining over farming, floated down to Earth with coco trees from the nether world because chocolate brings wisdom and power over nature as a healing medicinal drink. Latter, the cacao beans (coco beans) became the Aztec form of currency with gold dust. Sometimes very thin shavings of gold or gold dust was floated on top of the chocolate drink.

If you want to read all about the history of chocolate with the Aztecs, there’s a book, The Florentine Codex that describes Aztec life with chocolate. The drink, according to the book is "the chocolate drink of nobles." There are many references to the powerful medicinal nature of chocolate. See "Amazon.com: Early Modern Ecostudies: From the Florentine Codex." Also see, "The Florentine Codex Project." You might be interested n reading more about how chocolate was used among pre-Columbian native Mexicans from this open source community.

Columbus returned to Europe with the first cocoa beans. At that time in Europe, the beans were put on the back burner. Europeans were introduced once more to hot chocolate as a beverage when native Mexican Emperor Moctezuma met the explorer Cortes and his army. The cups of coco were served to the conquistadors with foaming honey and spices on top of the hot beverages.

By 1528 Cortes returned to Spain carrying the equipment needed to brew the Aztec king’s chocolate drink. At that time in Spain, the beans had a reputation for being addictive which they were, and powerful medicine. At that point, monks hid the beans in monasteries. The only persons in Europe with access to the beans were the highest nobility. The beans also had a reputation for altering feelings as well as healing pregnancy mood swings.

Then in the 17th century, Italian explorer, Antonio Carletti made sure cacao beans became available to the mass populations all over Europe. A century later,  "Chocolate Houses" like today’s coffee houses became popular in the 1700s. Even the English king, Charles 11 tried to get rid of the chocolate houses for being a place where people met to discuss politics over hot cocoa beverages.

In France, chocolate was declared a dangerous drug around the time of the French revolution. By the late 1700s, a new idea, mixing chocolate with milk became popular as a medical drink meant to heal. Sir Hans Sloane, personal doctor to Queen Anne, mixed chocolate with milk as a healing medicine and then sold his secret milk and chocolate recipe and later sold it to the Cadbury brothers who made a fortune with their Cadbury candies made from milk and chocolate. The combination grew popular in Europe.

In the next century, the Dutch chemist, Johannes Van Houten, produced cocoa powder to make the chocolate drink so you wouldn’t have to pulverize the cacoa beans and nibs. He developed a hydraulic press that crushed the cocoa beans, grinding them into a fine cocoa powder.  At this point, candy companies made fortunes by mass producing chocolate in the form of candy as well as cocoa powder for beverages.

Most nutritionists and consumers realize chocolate is addictive. Should you believe the widespread media headlines and recent scientific study that eating chocolate twice a week could save your life if you survived a heart attack? Throughout history, chocolate has been used for medicinal purposes to heal in centuries past.

See the ABC News video on the recent study and chocolate featuring a registered dietitian with some tips on how to serve dark chocolate, such as melted and spread on bread. See the video: Sweet Studies: Chocolate and Heart Health.   Also view the video, Chocolate Can Help Heart Attack Survivors.

What if you just want to prevent heart disease in the first place? According to the August 14, 2009 article, " Had a heart attack? Eating chocolate twice a week could save your life," recent research from Sweden shows chocolate-snacking victims are nearly 70 per cent less likely to die from cardiac problems than those who rarely eat the confectionery. But why chocolate when it contains caffeine and other stimulants? Wouldn’t it cause a faster heartbeat in someone with an already irregular pulse?

The study showed that eating chocolate even once a week can help, nearly halving the risk of death from heart issues. But what did the researchers actually find?

You’d have to see the September, 2009 findings, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine. The current research is the latest in a long line of studies highlighting the health benefits of chocolate, especially dark chocolate.
See: " Chocolate consumption and mortality following a first acute myocardial infarction: the Stockholm Heart Epidemiology Program ,"Journal of Internal Medicine, Volume 266, Issue 3, Date: September 2009, Pages: 248-257, I. Janszky, K. J. Mukamal, R. Ljung, S. Ahnve, A. Ahlbom, J. Hallqvist. Also see: Abstract  |  References  |  Full Text: HTML , PDF .
 
Previous investigations have found dark chocolate, which is rich in disease-busting antioxidants called flavonoids, can lower the risk of blood clots, protect against bowel cancer and even help prevent premature births. But be careful if the stimulants in chocolate give you panic attacks, stimulate your central nervous system, your thyroid, or give you a faster heartbeat. Find out how you react to chocolate, especially dark chocolate.
 
If you’re going to eat dark chocolate for the health benefits, choose dark chocolate, 85% cocoa in the dark chocolate or at least 70 percent cocoa in the dark chocolate. Be aware of the fat and sugar added to chocolate as well unless you’re eating the unsweetened cocoa powder without added sweeteners or fats added to harden chocolate into bars or chips.
 
What’s in the dark chocolate that is healthy? It’s the antioxidants. But can’t you also get antioxidants from fruits? Antioxidants are compounds that protect against so-called free radicals, molecules which accumulate in the body and damage cells.
 
Since coronary disease is a major killer, are there specific foods that help prevent the risk of heart attack? You could get a genetic test to see whether you even have the genes that give you a higher risk of getting heart disease. You can be tested genetically for risk, but no one knows for sure if the risk will play out or remain just a risk that can be lessened with diet, lifestyle, and exercise regimens.

 
Why do the research experts at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, indicate that snacking on chocolate could be the perfect remedy rather than eating a vegan diet with plenty of green vegetable juices and antioxidant fruits? Could it be because chocolate is more addictive than heroin, some nutritionists say?
 
Or because it’s easier to get people addicted to the four most addictive foods–chocolate, sugar, cheese and meat? The average person might start off a meal with meat covered in melted cheese–a patty melt or cheese melted over fish, then finish the meal with a dessert of chocolate mousse whipped with sugar. That doesn’t sound so healthy, but it takes in the four most addictive foods–chocolate, sugar, cheese and meat.
 
Let’s take a look at the Swedish chocolate study. Researchers tracked 1,169 patients aged between 45 and 70 who had been admitted to hospital with a heart attack between 1992 and 1994. Each participant was questionned based on dietary habits, including how much chocolate they ate. Researchers followed the same patients for most of a decade.

 

The results showed those eating a few ounces of chocolate twice a week or more were 66 per cent less likely to die from cardiac disease than non-eaters. Was it the chocolate? And what type of chocolate did the patients eat? Dark chocolate, at least 85 percent cocoa? Or did the eat just any chocolate off the market shelf?

Chocolate once a week reduced the risk by almost half and even an occasional treat – once a month or less – had a small benefit, cutting the risk by 27 per cent. The study noted that any other candy sweets didn’t help. Just chocolate. Was it dark or milk chocolate in the study?

In a report on their findings, the researchers said: ‘The health effects of chocolate have been of great interest in recent years. But we know of no other studies assessing the possible effects of chocolate on post-heart attack prognosis. ‘We found it had a strong inverse association with subsequent cardiac mortality.’
 
The type of chocolate nutritionists warn people to keep away from is the high-fat, high-sugar so-called milk chocolate. They say the healthier chocolate is the dark chocolate, with at least 70 and better yet 85 percent cocoa.
 
Here are some cautions when looking at a recent study like this. First of all, the people were followed for a decade. In the past ten years, new findings have been published on health benefits of various antioxidant foods and their effects on the cardiovascular system.
 
There are other foods much lower in saturated fats and sugars than eating chocolate candies to help heart disease patients, such as a diet of fruits and vegetables with some fish or Omega 3, 9, and 6 fatty acids in balance, and plenty of antioxidants from whole foods. Sometimes a raw fruits and vegetable diet helps, with legumes. The idea is to get the antioxidants.
 
Dark chocolate has some antioxidants. But you really need a balanced diet. Otherwise you’ll just get addicted to the sugar and other ingredients in the chocolate, and you’ll start craving chocolate ice cream and fudge.
 
You could substitute carob once in a while, but what you really need is a wholesome, balanced diet that won’t create high sugar spikes and metabolic syndrome symptoms. See the video, " Chocolate Can Help Heart Attack Survivors," at the MedHelp site. A new study finds eating chocolate, in moderation, can lower the risk of death for people who have recently suffered a heart attack.

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