Cacao: Food of the Gods

Imagine a world without heart disease. One where an 80 year old person has the same blood pressure as someone who is 20, and where there is no heart attacks or strokes. What would that look like? Would it be a society with nano medicines and gene therapy? Well, the answer can be found off the Caribbean coast of Panama.

Meet the Kuna Indians:

These indigenous peoples are one of the few populations on earth that do not suffer from hypertension. On the Kuna islands cardiovascular disease is almost none existent and the rate of cancer is significantly lower. So what is the reason behind this? Is it genetics or stress free lifestyle? Believe it or not, it’s their diet - more specifically their consumption of cacao. The Kuna drink up to 5 cups of natural cacao brew a day, which is the highest consumption than any other population on earth.

Even though drinking raw cacao is rare in our modern society, the Kuna are certainly not the first people to have felt its curative properties. Cacao has a long and celebrated medical history. Theobroma Cacao is the scientific name for the cacao tree (derived from Greek) and literally means ‘Cacao, Food of the Gods’. For millennia the cacao brew was treated as a high elixir by Mesoamerican and Southern American Indians. It was seen as a gift from the Gods themselves. Only high ranking men in these Indian communities had the honor of drinking cacao, such as high priests, generals and nobility. The only exception to this rule was if you were a human sacrifice to the gods. You had the honor of drinking your first and last cup of cacao right before they killed you. The Mayans went so far to show their appreciation for Cacao that they created their own Cacao god, called ‘Ek Chuah’. 


(Ek Chuah - Mayan god of Cacao and trade)

During the conquest of the New World, the Spanish conquistadors quickly noticed cacao’s curative properties and saw its value as a trade product. It was subsequently exported to Europe, where it became a favourite treat amongst the wealthy classes. Between the 16th and 20th century no less than 100 medical uses were described for cacao. During the 19th century we invented the processes to make the modern day version of chocolate. Sadly these very processes destroy most of the curative properties, and because of this Cacao’s status as a medicine was forgotten. It wasn’t until the 1990’s when medical researchers regained their interest in Cacao. 

Back to the Kunas... the most striking feature found in the Kuna study was that the average blood pressure of 110/70 mm Hg, which according to medical community is the perfect blood pressure. Even at the age of 65 this average was maintained. As a comparison the average blood pressure of this age group in the UK is over 140/70 mm Hg and at the same time doctors will be prescribing anti hypertensive medications, with harmful side effects, to lower it. Compared to their mainland cousins in Panama City they have significantly lower rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and strokes are almost none existent - the biggest causes of death around the world. Sure, there could be many factors to these findings but we know for sure cacao has a role to play in this (see supporting articles). 

Is cacao a cure? Well, it could definitely be part of the solution to a treatment if you suffer from the aforementioned ailments; or even as a preventative measure when added to your daily diet. 



Supporting articles:

Flavanols, the Kuna, Cocoa Consumption, and Nitric Oxide - Norman K. Hollenberg, M.D., Ph.D., Naomi D.L. Fisher, M.D., and Marjorie L. McCullough, Sc.D., R.D.

Cacao: Food of the Gods