What is Theobromine and does it actually work?

Updated May 11, 2024 by | Reviewed by William Gallagher, MNeuroSci
(Estimated reading time: 10 minutes)

Theobromine is a chemical found in the cocoa plant and is used as stimulation to help increase alertness and focus.

The effects of Theobromine are very similar to what caffeine does to the body and are compared as so.

They are even a part of the same chemical family: methylxanthines.

Theobromine is commonly used as a replacement for caffeine as although the effects of it are much less apparent, the fact that it is a lot less addictive and the downsides of taking it are a lot less noticeable makes it a great alternative.

Especially if you want to cut ties with your caffeine addiction and take something considered to be much healthier for you whilst you work on that overdue paper or grueling project.

I’ll be covering the effects of theobromine on the body in comparison to caffeine later on, for now, I'll want to cover the actual effects of theobromine on the brain; a standalone investigation.

Before I do, it might be surprising to know that you will probably be consuming theobromine as much as you do with caffeine already, as it is found in many of your favorite foods and drinks such as dark chocolate and black tea.

Theobromine Effects on the brain

Boost of mood

Research in this area is limited, and the feedback has been a bit of a mix from a lot of testing but some evidence does suggest that the consumption of theobromine may result in a mood boost; in the forms of relaxation and positive thinking.

Improved cognitive function

Since Theobromine is so closely linked to caffeine, it should come as no surprise that it can also offer you improved cognitive function for a short period of time.

This is likely due to the way Theobromine encourages blood flow to the brain which will help make people feel a lot more mentally awake and focused on the task at hand.

Brain and body boost

As already stated, theobromine is closely linked with caffeine so it is no surprise that consuming it may result in a physical and mental energy boost, which will help with concentration and alertness.

Theobromine differs from the caffeine in one noticeable way, however, as its stimulant effects are a lot less apparent though they are much longer-lasting.

Benefits of Theobromine

Though some of these won’t matter too much if you’re considering taking theobromine as a nootropic, we feel they are still worth mentioning as a sort of interesting side benefit if you were to take theobromine for a boost in brainpower for work or for school.

But with benefits, there also comes downsides with it, just like with any nootropic you take - too much of it can be harmful.

And we’ll be talking that in such a little bit too.

Benefits you care about

Temporary cognitive boost

As mentioned, one of the main benefits and probably the main factor in your consideration to take theobromine is the cognitive boost it can give you - thanks to the way the stimulant encourages blood flow to your brain, you will feel much more mentally alert and focus at the task at hand.

Mood boost

There is some evidence that suggests consumption of theobromine can result in a mood boost which can help you relax, and think more positively which will very much help with concentrating on the task you’re working on.

Increased energy

Due to the alertness that Theobromine gives you, you will feel like you have a lot more energy and will be more willing to get on with your tasks, though its stimulant effects are much milder than caffeine it is also long-lasting so it might be worth taking if you’ve got a long project or a paper due in a few hours.

Benefits worth mentioning

Keeps your heart healthy

Theobromine helps to lower blood pressure, this helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease; some evidence, although admittedly not strong, even shows that Theobromine may reduce bad cholesterol and improve good cholesterol.

As we’ve already discussed, theobromine promotes blood flow to the brain to help you stay alert, but it also improves blood flow around the body which will further help to support your heart.

Protects your teeth

If you know anything about theobromine, you’ll know it’s one of the components in chocolate, so it’s pretty ironic that the actual chemical itself would help to protect your teeth rather than destroy them - as chocolate is more than capable of doing.

Theobromine may help to protect the tooth enamel from erosion, which will significantly help strengthen the teeth.

It is also said to help defend against tooth decay that can cause you painful cavities.

One of the most surprising discoveries in relation to Theobromine and your teeth is that it may even be a better cavity fighter than fluoride, the teeth-strengthening chemical found in the toothpaste in every home.

Improves respiratory system

Theobromine is said to widen the body’s airways and relax smooth muscle tissues that are found in the lungs; this helps to increase airflow to the lungs - and maybe why as some other studies suggest - that theobromine is great with managing asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Beter respiratory will also give you a better time when you’re doing cardio at the gym or outside; finding it much easier to breathe will help you to keep going and allow yourself to set your PB’s.

So it may even be worth taking (as some bodybuilders are) when going to the gym.

Side effects of Theobromine

Theobromine is absolutely safe when taking in adequate dosages but it can cause unpleasant side effects when taken in high dosages for too long, this can include such things as:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Negative mood changes
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness

Some further studies even have shown that does between 300-1000mg of theobromine increased the heart rate of its users, increasing by a few beats more per minute.

In this case, it is recommended that anyone who has an irregular heart rate may want to avoid any sort of theobromine supplements.

As always, pregnant women and children should avoid supplement-based Theobromine, though the amounts naturally present in the food will be safe to take as usual.

Theobromine Vs. Caffeine

Both known as methylxanthines, Theobromine is actually just a byproduct of caffeine metabolism; they both exert CNS-enhancing effects by inhibiting adenosine receptors, though theobromine does so much more weakly than caffeine and is the reason as to why theobromine is much less powerful and effective.

With this small overview, let’s go over Theobromine vs Caffeine in a lot more detail, identifying the obvious similarities and notable differences between the two members of the methylxanthines family.

What are they?


First, discovered in the 1840s in cocoa beans, theobromine has been found in a variety of teas, such as black tea and yerba mate; though it is most found and consumed in dark chocolate and does, in fact, belong to the same family as caffeine:

The methylxanthine family.

Meaning that it has similar effects (which we’ve already discussed in this post) as well as some notable differences which we’ll get into further down.


Caffeine is a chemical that stimulates the central nervous system, heart, and muscles; it also the most common and most widely accepted nervous system stimulant available for purchase in today’s market.

Naturally found in seed and leaves of a variety of plants found across the globe such as in countries like Africa, South America.

It will be no surprise to learn that coffee is the most common source of caffeine though it is also found in a range of soda, teas, and pills.

Theobromine Vs. Caffeine: Benefits and side effects


Combating drowsiness is caffeine’s main benefit and the main purpose for consumption, which is obviously the reason why coffee is such a popular morning drink or why people like to consume other energy promoting drinks during their work hours.

As these to have plenty of caffeine to help eradicate a person’s sluggishness.

Caffeine also helps you to feel less hungry which makes it a common ingredient in plenty of weight loss products that are available.

Caffeine seems pretty great right about now, doesn’t it?

Well, of course, there are downsides to consuming caffeine, which many of us will have felt at least once in our lives - since it’s such a common chemical to consume in our now busy digital world.

The downsides of caffeine are that too much of it can make you feel very jittery and nervous, and if you were to consume it at the end of the day, say in a coffee, you will find it very hard to fall asleep.

However, you’ll be more than happy to know that a toxic dose of caffeine are pretty unrealistic if you’re just drinking coffee, as it will take you about 15 cups to do so.

Though with this being said, it is more than possible with powdered caffeine as it could only take a tablespoon to be fatal.


Due to their similarity, theobromine affects the body in a similar way that caffeine does, but it is around 10 times weaker.

Whilst research shows that both chemicals can bind to the nervous system in the same way, theobromine binding is a lot weaker - which can be seen as a good thing because you won’t feel the same nervousness jittery energy as you would when consuming caffeine.

Although consuming high dosages of it may still make you feel this way.

The energy it gives you is a lot less intense but longer-lasting, and as mentioned previously, it can also promote increased blood flow and better breathing which can further help with a sense of alertness, focus, and a sense of calm.

Just like caffeine, there are some potential downsides to taking this particular chemical; for instance, if your body is not used to too much of it, you can feel nausea, experience vomiting, and have severe headaches as a result.

It can also increase heart rate, though only by a few beats a minute, can be unpleasant for anyone who suffers from an irregular heartbeat.

Over consummation can cause caffeine-like side effects in the range of anxiety and restlessness.

Similar to caffeine, to get a lethal dose of theobromine you’d have to be consuming tons of it; so you can be comfortable knowing you’re probably never going to harm yourself taking this nootropic.

Theobromine Vs. Caffeine: Which is better?

Since theobromine is less addictive and some of its drawbacks are a lot less harsh, it can be a good idea to switch to it for your usual caffeine intake.

Helping you to remove caffeine from your life that your body may heavily rely on, as many people do thanks to our busy work lives.

Is it toxic to humans?

As with many things you consume in your lifetime, things can get toxic if you have way too much of it and theobromine is no different in this instance.

But just how much would you need to take for it to be a lethal dose?

The lowest published toxic dose is 16mg/kg body weight.

Though you won’t instantly drop dead when taking too much of this chemical, there are some telltale signs that are very obvious if you’ve gone off the recommended limits of consumption.

This can include things like:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Epileptic Seizures,
  • Heart attacks.

If you were to ignore these fatal signs and continue on with consumption, then that’s when it can lead you to your death.

But don’t let this scare you out of using theobromine, it is REALLY difficult to get to this stage, and whether its theobromine or any other stimulant, they all can cause death if you’re not smart about using them.

Is it a stimulant?

Just like caffeine, theobromine is a stimulant that belongs to the methylxanthine chemical family and it stimulates the central nervous system, heart, and muscles of the human body.

It also has similar effects to coffee; helping to improve wakefulness and remove any drowsiness you may feel as well as helping to improve cognitive function and in some cases improving the mood you are currently feeling.

This is down to the fact that this stimulant promotes blood flow around the body, which positively affects your brain and your heart.

Will it keep you awake?

Since Theobromine is 10 times weaker than caffeine, studies have found that it will not get in the way of someone trying to get a good night’s sleep.

In some cases it has even been shown that taking theobromine resulted in a better quality of sleep, as people experienced a lot less restlessness and even found that they didn’t wake up randomly in the middle of the night; something caffeine users are more than aware of happening; especially when drinking things like coffee to close to bedtime.

Which foods contain Theobromine?

Theobromine has probably been in our bodies at least once in our lifetime, perhaps it even a part of your day-to-day eating and drinking habits - this is because it is found in so many popular food products.

Here are the most common foods which contain theobromine, listed greatest to least concentration:

  • Raw cacao beans, powder, and nibs
  • Processed cocoa and dark chocolate products
  • Milk chocolate
  • Black tea
  • Chocolate pudding, cake mix, syrup, cereal, candy, ice cream, etc.

Can you use Theobromine for bodybuilding?

Whether it’s consuming coffee or some other caffeine-based pre-workout, this particular methylxanthines chemical is a common option for gym-goers, whether you’re just going to keep in shape or you’re a full-time bodybuilder.

Though, a lot more athletes are using theobromine as an alternative to caffeine.

Theobromine is believed to have stimulating properties that bodybuilders can actually feel, similar to what caffeine provides them, which results in the following things:

  • Improved focus
  • Energy
  • Motivation
  • And the ability to concentrate on the exercise in front of them.

Some bodybuilders claim that the heightened mental state which they have felt has helped them with bodybuilding-based endurance.

Should you take it as a Nootropic?

Since Theobromine offers you a lot of the upsides that caffeine can offer you without the harsh downsides which follow it, then we would absolutely recommend using Theobromine as a Nootropic since it helps with cognitive function, improves mood, and even increases your mental and physical energy.

Which can benefit you in places like school, work, or even when going to the gym.

This is before we even talk about the other upsides such as helping to protect your teeth, keeping your heart healthy, and improving your respiratory system; which obviously offers no neurological value but is an awesome side benefit.

Even on the days you’re not studying or working you may still be consuming caffeine products like coffee, it might even be a good idea to replace it with theobromine instead, as discussed you’ll feel similar benefits without the harsh downsides.