With Valentine’s Day approaching, we can’t look anywhere without seeing hearts and chocolate. Sure, both are strongly linked to the romantic notion of love. But it turns out that the connection between hearts and chocolate is so much more. Cacao (the main ingredient in chocolate) can physically and emotionally open our hearts! So what’s this connection all about?
Dating back to 1900 BC, raw cacao (the pure, unroasted form of cacao) was used as a ceremonial medicine by the Olmec people in South America. Traditionally used by ancient Shamans and now experiencing a revival, for centuries raw cacao has been used to unlock euphoric states, to release negative emotions and to connect to ‘pure heart energy’2.
When taking part in a cacao ceremony (where you ingest pure, liquefied raw cacao) people often experience a heightened sense of their physical and emotional body, including awareness of their deepest sense of self and of their heart3. The emotional impact can be profound and can feel as if your heart is literally opening like a flower. It’s powerful stuff!
You see, cacao contains many natural, active chemicals which help release ‘feel good’ emotions. Theobromine, one of these active chemicals, increases the release of dopamine, or the ‘pleasure’ hormone, to the brain1. Phenethylamine, the chemical that is released in the body during emotional euphoria, is also found in cacao and is known to help relieve stress or depression1.
But beyond the chemistry of it all, cacao is thought to affect our heart energy, our emotional centre, by opening our heart chakra3. The concept of chakras stems from the esoteric traditions of Indian religions and is centred on the idea that we have two types of body: the physical body and the so-called ‘subtle body’, or psychological, emotional body4. There are thought to be seven centres (chakras) of subtle body energy, and the heart chakra in particular represents our emotions of empathy and love.
Here love is not thought of in the romantic sense, but rather goes beyond the limitations of the ego to open a compassionate acceptance of all that is, as it is4. It’s all about connecting and relating. This emotional energy or chakra can become blocked and lead to feelings of jealousy and isolation. But cacao is thought to help cleanse these blockages and can leave you feeling more connected to the world around you!
Cacao’s positive impact on the heart works not only on an emotional level, but also on a physical level. Studies have shown that regularly consuming cacao is good for the physical health of your heart and can reduce your chances of suffering from heart disease. In particular, cacao can improve the functioning of blood vessels, reduce insulin resistance, reduce blood pressure and reduce both LDL and HDL cholesterol5. These findings were confirmed in a study by The American Medical Journal of Clinical Nutrition6, which found that cacao has statistically significant effects on the above risk factors for heart disease. The reasons for this are still being investigated, but it’s thought that the high concentrations of flavanols and antioxidants found in raw cacao are the cause7.
Interestingly, there’s an isolated, native population called the Kuna living on an island near Panama7 who consume 3 to 4 cups of homemade raw cacao beverage every day. The Kuna have been found to have healthier hearts than average, with astoundingly rare cases of high blood pressure and heart disease8.
Studies show that the healthier hearts of the Kuna are a result of environmental rather than genetic factors, as those who migrate to the urban mainland and consume less cacao no longer show these traits8.
It’s important to remember, however, that not all products made from cacao will contain the same degree of these energetic and health benefits. Roasting the cacao or heating it to high temperatures, as is done in conventional chocolate making, can have a damaging impact on the ‘feel-good’ chemicals and flavanols within the beans. So your best chance of getting the maximum energetic and physical health benefits of cacao is to consume it raw.