12 Important Things to Know about Using Medicinal Cacao for Anxiety and Depression
By Dorothy Farrell

Depression and anxiety may affect the life of you or someone you love. Anxiety is a state of worry about the future, while depression is the persistent feeling of sadness. Either of these conditions can hold you back from experiencing life fully. The first step in addressing these behaviors is to acknowledge that neither depression nor anxiety are permanent. In each moment, we have the ability to choose the lens of our perception for reality. Cacao can help you come back to your truth. Cacao can help – cacao for anxiety and depression.

Cacao is a seed from the rainforests that has been used as a natural medicine for thousands of years by the Olmecs, Toltecs, Mayans, and Aztecs. Cacao is the active ingredient in chocolate. When you strip away the added fats, sugars, and preservatives, however, cacao shines as an incredibly uplifting superfood that works on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual centers of the body.

In modern medicine, the ideal is to throw back a pill that will numb you to your suffering. This is not the solution offered in this article. If you would like to rewire your brain through intentional thoughts and practices, while receiving the support of this miracle food of cacao on your journey, get ready to embrace the magical powers that already exist within you.

1. Theobromine Opens the Heart

The heart is not just a physical organ vital to circulating your very life force. It also is the beholder of feelings of love, joy, and general well-being. If the heart is blocked energetically, it can hold on to feelings of sadness, grief, and loneliness.

Theobromine is one of the main active components in cacao, and is also found in green tea. It is a vasodilator, meaning it opens-up the blood vessels (lowering blood pressure) and stimulates the heart. Unlike caffeine, which can cause nervousness and thereby increase anxiety, theobromine works on smooth muscles tissue. Theobromine works on the heart, which is essentially the “center” of what we’re trying to alleviate with depression and anxiety.

Thanks to its high levels of theobromine, cacao has proven to widen blood vessels, increase blood flow and specifically stimulate the heart. A study published within Journal Of The American College Cardiology found that consuming dark chocolate with 70% cacao or higher can reduce cortisol concentrations over time due an effect called “the anxiolytic effect.”

2. Magnesium and Calcium for a Healthy Heart Beat

Both magnesium and calcium are essential minerals in the human body and plentiful in cacao. Calcium aids in the contraction of the heart, while magnesium aids in its relaxation, creating a rhythmic heartbeat. Magnesium is specifically recommended in soothing anxiety, and helps to open the heart-space.

3. Mood Elevation Compounds

Ceremonial cacao is naturally full of compounds that enhance one’s mood. These chemicals are grown in nature, not laboratories, and have evolved in harmony with the human body.

  • Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood and is present in small quantities in cacao.
  • Polyphenols are natural compounds that support cognitive functioning and combat depression.
  • Phenethylamine, or PEA, releases endorphins in the brain. Also known as the orgasm molecule, PEA is released when falling in love or having sex.
  • Tryptophan naturally relaxes the body, protects against stress, and is an anti-depressive.
  • Anandamide is another neurotransmitter found in cacao that evokes feelings of joy, bliss, and ecstasy.

These chemicals can help in the cognitive symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.

According to Psychology Today, ​​research done recently found an interesting association between consuming cacao rich products and improved depression symptoms as well as reduced anxiety levels. Cacao helps in lowering negative emotions and heightened positive emotions. Studies of short-term consumption of dark chocolate for a few days showed improvement in anxiety and depression ratings, moderate for depression and large for anxiety.

4. Antioxidants Reduce Stress

In addition to all of these powerful compounds, cacao is the most potent plant-based source of antioxidants (only after chaga). Antioxidants reduce inflammation, and thereby stress, in the body. By reducing stress, you allow energy to flow more freely. Sometimes you may not even be aware that you have stress until you let it go.

5Strengthen the Mind-Heart Connection

By this point, you can begin to see how cacao in and of itself can work wonders on the nerves, mood, mind, and heart. Let’s take this one step further: According to the Mayan wisdom, each person must fortify their heart-mind connection.

Have you ever heard the expression “The mind makes a wonderful servant but a terrible master”? In depression and anxiety, the mind is running laps through the same negative thought patterns over and over and over again. How do you break this disparaging cycle?

Allow the heart to lead the way. Within each person’s heart is a master teacher. At first, this voice may be dampened with insecurity or drowned out by the mind. When you learn to listen to the heart, and more importantly, take action on its guidance, you will be led into a positive new direction.

In one personal account, I worked with a woman who suffered from anxiety. After her first ceremonial dose of cacao, she was completely in awe of how the voices of her mind had calmed down and the voice of her heart came forth. Embrace this phenomena, and let it guide your way forward.

6. Cacao Ceremony as Medicine

In many ways, cacao is a miracle medicine. Let us now return to a very salient point: context. Cacao is not the type of medicine you take as a quick fix while you’re hustling in traffic with a frappuccino in your left hand. Rather, cacao is a medicine of presence, awareness, and even ceremony.

A ceremony is an event with a purpose, such as celebration, grief, or revival. It gives one permission to slow down and honor the changes that are inherent to life. You may recognize, in looser terms, a yoga practice as a ceremony, or even preparing one’s self for sleep. In fact, when we offer loving awareness, all of life transforms into a ceremony.

Creating a meaningful ritual, or reoccurring ceremony, with cacao, will create profound effects on the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. This is because it will repeatedly take you back to honoring the heart-mind connection. The more often you repeat this action, the stronger and more resilient its imprint will have on your life.

You can participate in a cacao ceremony guided by someone else, or you can create your own. The most important element is that this ceremony resonates with what allows you to feel a deep sense of love and connection (either with yourself or beyond). There is no typical cacao ceremony, but it may be accompanied by prayer, breathwork, healing sounds, dance, yoga, meditation, singing, chanting, or writing. Most importantly, however, is that it revolves around a heart-felt intention.

7. Cacao as Medicine: The Importance of Intention Setting

It is essential when taking cacao as medicine to have an intention. Though you may induce feelings of euphoria, you may also feel spacey if you do not direct these feelings into higher healing, especially if you are wishing to use cacao for anxiety or depression.

8. Grounding

Grounding means channeling good energy into the physical realm. Though cacao can cause many great feelings, you want to ensure that these will be lasting. Just as the tallest trees in the forest need deep roots, or a kite needs a tether to fly high and controlled, you too need to stay connected physically in order to have long lasting vitality. Going back to the introduction of this article, this is the part in which the healing comes from within. Cacao can help you get there, but you are the only one in charge who can create the positive effects in your life.

There are a few ways to ground the positive effects of cacao. One is to channel the energy from cacao into a physical activity, such as dancing. After all, lack of exercise often leads to depression, so this helps to shake off any stagnancy. Another way to channel the energy of cacao is through creative practices, such as writing. Writing will help you conjure your own ideas and what you wish to bring forth into the world.

9. Expanding Your Boundaries

So perhaps you’ve broken through the old depression and anxiety, and now you are ready for the new. Use the Spirit of Cacao to chart new territories of your life. Maybe it mens hiking a new trail in nature, or maybe forging a new friendship. Whatever it is, positive psychology thrives on creating new experiences for ourselves. Once you break through, use your momentum to step out of the ordinary and live extraordinarily with an open heart and a clear mind.

10. Ceremonial Dose of Cacao

The appropriate dose is going to vary person by person. People who are more sensitive will need less to reach the desired effect. In general, a ceremonial dose of cacao is 28-42 grams (1.0-1.5 oz). (There are 15 g of cacao is a tablespoon.) A ceremonial dose of cacao will create a jolt of energy, which may allow you to go more deeply into your experience. It is not, however, recommended to take this quantity frequently.

If you are ready to integrate cacao into a daily practice, try 20 grams. This will help you receive all the positive effects of mood regulation and nutrient uptake. It is also recommended, as with all psychoactive chemicals, to take at least 1-2 days off each week.

11. Cacao as Antidepressant: What Should You Know?

Before you begin to integrate cacao into your life, please be advised:

  • If you are currently taking antidepressant medication, cacao may create migraines. Start with a very small dose of cacao (5 g). Talk with your health professional if you are interested in switching to cacao for anxiety as an alternative medicine.
  • Cacao increases heart rate. If you are already experiencing a heart condition, also start with just a small amount, and do not combine with intensive exercise.
  • Cacao is a diuretic, so be sure to drink plenty of water to balance your hydration levels.

12. Share Cacao Medicine

In ancient Buddhist proverb states: “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

If you have reaped the fruits of a healing journey with cacao, share the seeds and fruits with others. It will not only help someone on their healing journey, but will also allow you to come back full circle on your own.

Disclaimer: The author of this article is not a medical health professional. If you or someone you love are seeking alternative medicine to depression or anxiety, try speaking to a holistic health professional to find new solutions.

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