Updated: Sep 15
I have listed below scientific evidence around the powerful medicinal benefits of Cacao in mental Wellness and its benefits as an Antidepressant. This is a study I had Dr Corin of Seleno Health conduct on the behalf of The Cacao Ambassador. But for the first part of this blog, I would like to share my personal experience post Christchurch Earthquakes and how Cacao literally saved my life!
About 4 months after the February Earthquake, I was thrown into a deep state of depression and anxiety. I now know I had PTSD.
I kept going deeper and deeper into a black hole, saying no to life and becoming more and more fearful of everything, I would have panic attacks in supermarkets, be incapable of knowing what to purchase and spend hours walking around the isle’s. My mind would bombard me with all kinds of negative thoughts. It was as if there was a film of grey and often black across every thought, so I could only see the worst possible outcome. I also thought very little about myself, blaming myself with heavy self judgement. I became skin and bone as there was so much anxiousness inside that there was no room for food. It was as if all my logic and ability to function in the world had disintegrated into pieces, and only the negative, the dark existed in a very dysfunctional way. I was like a ruderless boat being tossed around by my thoughts. Night time was the worst when after perhaps 3 hours of sleep, I would awaken and be victim to the worst fears and doubts. Did I have suicidal thoughts? Most definitely! I wanted and needed a reprieve, and no amount of wise words could help, or support from friends of which I had alot of, could bring me back. However the gift of my children kept me here and somehow there was a tiny thin string that kept me going. But it was only a tiny tiny thread that kept me holding on….
The thing is, with this amount of depression and anxiety, we get ourselves into such a low place, that it is almost impossible to come out. Self care, taking small steps, all are advised, alongside medication but one is so low that the reach for this is sometimes too great and the cycle keeps spinning. I just kept shrinking further and further into darkness and being afraid of the world and of saying yes to anything! In my experience medication only numbed me, and I stopped taking it after one tablet.
It was at this point that a friend gave me a book on Super-foods. I was a Master Chocolatier and worked, albeit not really given my state, with chocolate every day. In this book it listed both Cacao(the ingredient that makes chocolate) and Maca as Being super-foods and very good also combined especially as an ant-depressant.
Something connected inside. I had been given so much advise, that couldn't reach me, but something in this reached me in the dark recesses.
I made myself a promise – I would make myself a Cacao and Maca smoothie every day. I would do that one thing for myself no matter what.
And I did, and literally within 10 days I wasn’t cured but it was as if I could breath and see a pinprick of light!
Here is what I know Cacao does, and is supported by Maca:
Pure powerful Cacao creates space from the thoughts. We still have to master the thoughts, not believe in them, heal them, love them, but when that low, doing this without cacao is like telling someone to swim when they never have. Cacao creates that life ring that allows one to start to relax and have space from being the thoughts and the sensations of negativity and the bombardment of being at the mercy of the thoughts, and gives one a massive helping natural hand. Suddenly one is looking at the the thoughts and holding them rather then being taken by them. One can pick them up and put them down. There is more light and space and moments of quietude and hope and definitely self love. There are more and more moments of the light shining, of possibility being know, and from this place once can start to help themselves in a real way.
Taking Cacao daily was fundamental for this shift at that time in my life.
I remember my first big yes to life! My dear friend Floris called me saying she was returning to Samoa and would I come and visit her on her Cacao farm(I didn’t even know her family owned a cacao farm). And I heard myself saying yes, without considering all the possible difficulties. Afterwards I went into a state of panic but navigated through and found myself in Samoa, being taken by the Cacao trees and greater healing took place. This was massive from where I was three months previously.
Floris and I under a Cacao Tree, Samoa
And now I don’t get taken by the darkness. I may wake up in a flood of negative thoughts, or a cloud of darkness, or when I take a big leap in my life, be bombarded by all the fears and doubts that could be from childhood or cultural or any negative moment in life where we planted a bomb to go off if we ever stepped over that edge again!
But I have enough experience to know that these thoughts are welcome, that with exercise, my morning Cacao and some yoga, they will dissipate and I will look back and go ‘well that was a storm in a tea cup’. Please know that that storm is all too real when we are in the middle of it. I bow down with heart break for anyone who is in or has gone through what I have experienced. And I know the power and gift of Cacao.
Today I work in deep service to Cacao, to share Her voice, to share Her power, especially for Mental wellness. I am in the deepest gratitude for her gift every single day.
One cannot overdose on Her, and she will adjust to what the body needs.
She is a powerful tool for mindfulness, as in taking us into the present moment so we can bare witness to our thoughts rather then be taken by them. Like going into nature or surfing, She creates a space of up-liftment and positivity, and when we trust her enough, she supports genuine joy.
I am a big believer in Joy, in living a life of genuine and true joy, Of smiling no matter what, of laughing deeply and knowing the full colour of this life and this earth no matter the difficulties.
Theresa and I with Cacao Face Masks, Solomon Islands
And now I consume Cacao continuously all day long! I start my day with an early morning walk either up a mountain or along the beach and half way I pick some where special and I have my Cacao elixir, made with 100% ceremonial paste, water, Maca and maple syrup, in a flask. As I drink this I give thanks for all I am grateful for and I ask her some big questions if I have them. I sit with negative thoughts, I don’t push them away, for they are welcome. Now I know they hold the seeds of some jewels I need to unpack and learn from to grow, but I only look at them when I am in a higher vibration, I don’t let their energy dominate me. For their energy is of the past, and can colour my now reality if I allow them to. They actually don’t want that in my experience. They want to be transformed in the colour of my new reality, but so often when they come to be transformed in our new light we allow their colour to be what we see with. It’s a very fine line of being the new brighter me and allowing that brightness to transform my past and not be dulled by the energies of my past coming home to be loved, as I call it.
That is why I always welcome the thoughts and the feelings but only love them and explore them when I have taken myself into a higher frequency. Einstein once said we cannot solve a problem from the same place that created it. That’s kinda what I mean!
And so my day continues, through the morning I drink Cacao husk tea, and for lunch I have a cacao smoothie, with all kinds of yummy goodies in it, from Cacao nibs, hemp seeps, oat milk, dark chocolate, maca powder, chia seeds, blueberries, hemp oil, frozen bananas, nut butter, flax seed…
In the afternoon I will munch on at least 8 roasted and peeled Cacao beans with some activated nuts and dried fruits. Dinner may contain steamed veg with cacao nibs sprinkled over it or other forms and in the evening I will enjoy a little of dark chocolate that I have made myself. Around 75% is the perfect balance of decadence and goodness!
Lately, as I embark on a bigger adventure, I have been increasing my Cacao Elixir drink to twice a day and honestly access to the fifth dimension is right there. The fears and doubts are there but they don’t hold or grip me. I can embrace feel and enter them but still know who I am..
I deeply know Cacao and converse with the trees, but knew little of Maca and Maca has helped so much, so two years ago on a pilgrimage to say thank you to Maca, I journeyed with Seleno Health to their farmers village. I harvested and spent a week in Maca’s presence.
The above photo was taken at sun rise, before anyone was up. I laid cacao beans at 4500 meters in the Andes with Maca to sun dry together. This was a profound moment of gratitude to these two powerful medicines for basically saving my life.
Sally and I post harvesting Maca
Here is the Scientific report that I commissioned Dr Corin of Seleno Health to write on the Scientific viewpoint of how Cacao supports Mental Wellness…
Mental Health and Cacao
Mental health disorders are New Zealand’s third leading cause of health loss with conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and attention deficit disorders (ADD) affecting a large portion of people1-4. One in six people or 16.6% of the population (650,000 adults) will experience a common mental disorder at some time in their lives that will drastically impact on the health and well-being4. Socio-economically deprived New Zealanders, women, and Māori all have higher rates of mental health-related issues4. Studies have shown that the biggest barrier to people seeking help is fear of how they will be perceived within society5. Understanding mental health can help alleviate some of the fears surrounding it and also assist to better understand how we can manage it.
Cacao anxiety benefits
When stress becomes too much for some or just when you feel overwhelmed anxiety is a mental health disorder where people feel;
· Excessive worrying or apprehension about several of events or activities
· Difficulty managing the worrying
· Three or more:
Restlessness or being “on edge”
Can also be associated with panic attacks and other severe symptoms
Cacao as an anti depressant
Depression can come and go, for some it can be a single episode, or others ongoing recurring episodes3. It is characterized with a depressed mood or loss in pleasure:
· Feeling down almost every day for two weeks or more
· Notably loss of enjoyment in almost all activities during this time
· Significant unintentional weight changes
· Other people notice that you are slowing down in movement or thinking
· Almost constant fatigue
· Recurrent thoughts of self-harm
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
This mental health concern is due to the unfortunate experience of a traumatic event. Symptoms vary from person to person and may not manifest immediately. This disorder is characterised by:
· Experiencing a stressor that threatens or experiences serious injury or death
· Persistently re-experiencing traumatic event through nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts
· Avoidance of triggering emotions, memories, and reminders
· Exhibiting two types of negative alterations in cognition and mood
· May have alterations in arousal and activity
· Lasts more than one month
· Creates distress or emotional impairment
· Not due to other illnesses or medications
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Adults suffering from ADHD frequently experience five or more indications of inattention and hyperactivity that impairs daily life7. The symptoms of ADHD include:
· Carelessness: making mistakes and lacking attention detail
· Difficulty concentrating
· Does not listen to direct communications
· Lack of follow-through
· Poor organisation
· Avoids or dislikes tasks with sustained mental effort
· Loses necessary items
· Easily distracted
· Generally forgetful
· Leaves conversations randomly
· Has trouble with calm activities
· Always on the go
· Talks excessively
· Bursts out comments
· Difficulty waiting
· Interrupts or intrudes on others
For those looking for natural alternatives to improve mental health many may seek complementary or alternative medicines to treat their symptoms9. In Central and South American culture, the cacao bean has always been used a sacred brain food to maintain mental balance and happiness. Now new scientific studies are beginning to explain why cacao is such a powerful plant to help our mental health.
How Cacao works to improve our mental health
1. With brain protecting flavonoids like epicatechin
Cacao is rich in special antioxidants that protect our brain function10,11,12. It contains molecules called flavonoids, that improve memory, cognition, and learning13. Studies of people consuming flavonoids over a 10- year period showed that they preserved their cognitive performance14,15. Cacao flavonoids are rapidly absorbed in the brain and can increase cerebral blood flow reaching peak concentrations within 2-3h after eating16-19. The most prevalent flavonol found in cacao, called epicatechin20, has been independently shown to be beneficial for vascular function and blood flow21. Studies have shown that perceived fear and anxiety can negatively alter cerebral blood flow (CBF)22. So having higher levels of flavanols from cacao in your blood can help reduce anxiety, fear and improve cognition23,24. In larger clinical trials several studies showed that after 5 days or more of consuming cacao people experienced cognitive improvement in many tests, although overall behavioural changes were not noted18,25-32.
2. Through the action of methylxanthines (MXT) like theobromine
The other dominant component of cacao is the family of molecules classified under methylxanthines (MTX), and their metabolic products, which act on key receptors in the brain. The MTX components in cacao include theobromine, caffeine and procyanidins11,35. Cacao only contains low levels of the stimulant caffeine11, but much higher proportions of theobromine, that produces a similar but lesser effect in comparison36,37. So cacao can be a little stimulatory but not as much as foods with high levels of caffeine like coffee. Theobromine is the most bioavailable compound in cacao, as measured in human plasma11. It also penetrates the brain crossing the selective blood-brain barrier for direct effects14. Theobromine improves working memory, acute memory formation and memory use40. The proposed mechanism is that theobromine is an adenosine receptor antagonist, a kind of inhibitor12, but differs from the comparative molecule caffeine12. In fact, theobromine in cacao actually offsets caffeine-related anxiety and sleep disruption10. This suggests theobromine may preferentially bind to different brain regions or types of neurons to specifically enhance memory, offering many more benefits than simple caffeine.
3. By supporting our ‘bliss molecule’ - Anandamide
Cacao also contains trace levels of human amines that may collectively alter mood through promoting the production of our natural bliss molecule called Anadamide. Anadamide is a human cannabinoid that regulates many stress-related functions in our nervous system. Anadamide acts to bring harmony, balance and bliss back to our natural brain function in partnership with neurotransmitters like serotonin. It is still unclear however if cacao directly or indirectly influences Anandamide. One study that has since been refuted claimed that cacao contains anandamide, which when ingested resulted in direct activation of cannabinoid receptors in the brain41. This was strongly refuted by other researchers42, however there has since been proposed a secondary hypothesis that the molecule phenylethylamine (PEA) that exists within cacao actually acts to prevent the reuptake of cannabinoid acting molecules like Anadamide, thereby enhancing the cannabinoid receptor activation indirectly42. This follow-up response declared that the trace amounts of these amines would not be sufficient to induce a mind-altering experience. However, acute administration of cacao showed anti-anxiety responses in a rat stress-test, and long-term ingestion of cacao increased the amount of serotonin in several brain regions43. Serotonin reduces anxiety, amongst other mood-stabilising effects. The trace element PEA, found in cacao is structurally similar to serotonin and dopamine and enhances these uplifting neurotransmitters through secondary mechanisms44,45. So directly or indirectly cacao may offer increased levels of bliss and happiness to our brain when consumed regularly.
4. Through natural antidepressant effects
Antidepressant effects of cacao have been demonstrated in laboratory studies where rats consuming it performed better in stressful situations33. In a similar human study using cacao flavonol tablets to disguise the pronounced taste, acute consumption improved cognitive function and improved self-reported mental fatigue34. Further studies investigating cacao supplementation for anxiety showed acute administration provided anti-anxiety responses, with long-term ingestion increasing the amount of serotonin in several brain regions43. These studies suggest a positive role in cacao consumption for depression and anxiety, by alleviating the symptoms experienced by those struggling.
The clinical research has provided sound evidence to support the use of cacao in the ongoing management of mental health disorders. The molecules it contains have been shown to offer brain protection, improvements in memory, enhancement in mental function as well as anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects. These properties could be of assistance to those struggling with their mental health. The only complications with the use for such issues is a lack of standardising of active ingredients. Currently there is no known standard for required levels of flavanols, methylxanthines, PEA or other important molecules and not all cacao is equal in terms of its therapeutic quality. Levels of such compounds can vary greatly depending on where and how the cacao has been grown and processed. However, daily consumption of a good quality premium cacao may offer some people benefit for the ongoing management of mental health disorders.
To learn more about cacao visit www.selenohealth.com/cacao and become a cacao expert.
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