Exploring cocoa properties: is theobromine a cognitive modulator?

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2019 Feb;236(2):561-572. doi: 10.1007/s00213-019-5172-0. Epub 2019 Jan 31.


Nutritional qualities of cocoa have been acknowledged by several authors; a particular focus has been placed on its high content of flavanols, known for their excellent antioxidant properties and subsequent protective effect on cardio- and cerebrovascular systems as well as for neuromodulatory and neuroprotective actions. Other active components of cocoa are methylxanthines (caffeine and theobromine). Whereas the effects of caffeine are extensively researched, the same is not the case for theobromine; this review summarizes evidence on the effect of theobromine on cognitive functions. Considering animal studies, it can be asserted that acute exposition to theobromine has a reduced and delayed nootropic effect with respect to caffeine, whereas both animal and human studies suggested a potential neuroprotective action of long-term assumption of theobromine through a reduction of Aβ amyloid pathology, which is commonly observed in Alzheimer's disease patients' brains. Hence, the conceivable action of theobromine alone and associated with caffeine or other cocoa constituents on cognitive modulation is yet underexplored and future studies are needed to shed light on this promising molecule.

Keywords: Cocoa; Cognition; Cognitive modulator; Theobromine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / drug effects
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cacao / chemistry
  • Caffeine / pharmacology*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Nootropic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Polyphenols
  • Theobromine / pharmacology*


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Nootropic Agents
  • Polyphenols
  • Caffeine
  • Theobromine