Surviving by the Sweat of the Stars

Surviving by the Sweat of the Stars:

  • The ancient remedy of cacao is reexamined for its potency against modern maladies.

“Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea, and universal medicine” – Geronimo Piperini[i]

The product of grinding cacao nibs to separate  fats from solids is called liquor.
The product of grinding cacao nibs to separate fats from solids is called liquor.

Enlightenment Age physician Felici in assessing the benefits of chocolate observed that just because something cures disease it is not necessarily good for our health.[ii] The challenge of cures being as violent as disease has been with us for as long as chocolate has graced our palates. As frail humans we have learned to survive with the potent chemical aggressors such as chemotherapy that can ironically sometimes prolong our lives. Likewise we often have an uneasy relationship with those things our taste buds relish. Forbidden fruit such as chocolate, perceived as a momentary indulgence, when overdone becomes a health risk.

What if our curatives, our preventatives, and our treats could be one and the same? What a wonderful world it might be if our most ethereal indulgence, as Geronimo Piperini wrote, ‘the sweat of the stars,’ could be the key to solving our deepest health fears?

Research by Zainal Barahum et al shows that the entire Theobroma cacao tree manifests anti-cancer potential. When tested against both estrogen sensitive and non-estrogen sensitive breast cancer cell lines, the root of T cacao shows the greatest antioxidant power of all components of the tree. As the root of a tree is essential to its perpetuation, this may be problematic, but many other elements of the tree contain highly active anti cancer properties.[iii]

Cacao has had a fabled history, making its way from ritual drink to tribute treasure and finally to the treat available to most of the world today. As early as 600 BC cacao was present in the folk medicine of Central American peoples, with its use identified in the Olmec, Maya and Aztec societies. The Florentine Codex, the Princeton Codex and the Badianus Manuscript together offer more than 100 references to medicinal purposes for cacao.[iv] Europe’s Galenic medical beliefs were not enough to keep cacao concoctions from entering the daily pleasure rituals of the wealthy.

The seeds of the cacao pod, most often called beans, contain  curative  elements, as do most other components of the Theobroma cacao tree.
The seeds of the cacao pod, most often called beans, contain curative elements, as do most other components of the Theobroma cacao tree.

As Renaissance turned to Enlightenment and Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution, mankind’s relationship with chocolate progressed from elite treat and arcane remedy to a fashionable possession of upper class society and finally on to more commonplace use as a sweet and as a provider of energy for the masses.[v]

For many decades in western culture cacao has been understood via chocolate, cacao’s sugary construct. But recent interest in traditional medicine inspired investigation into old claims about cacao’s healing potential. With cancer occurrence at an all time high, researchers are turning to folk remedies for clues as to what substances the earth may yield to aide us in our fight against disease.

K.W. Lee et al did complex chemical analysis to ascertain the power of the phenols extracted from cacao bean husks (CBH) to prevent the initiation of cancer cells and in the inhibition of promotion and progression of cancer growth. Their research shows that CBH eacted using ethanol and then purified has a four fold greater inhibiting effect on certain cancer cell lines than another hero of the antioxidant team, vitamin C.[vi]

Might we have our cacao chemotherapy and eat it too? K. W. Lee, et al say yes.

The husk of the dried cacao bean contains anti-cancer properties.
The husk of the dried cacao bean contains anti-cancer properties and is a readily available by product of chocolate production.

The husks of the cacao seed are removed to create the cacao liquor from which our chocolate is made. The husk accounts for 15% of the bean by weight. When 2.5 million tons of beans are husked or winnowed annually to meet our desire for chocolate, 400,000 tons of husk remains as waste.[vii]

The process of creating extracts for use against cancer utilizes CBH, a byproduct of chocolate that otherwise has few uses. CBH tea is produced and sold to a limited extent, but the volume in no way uses the quantity of husk available worldwide.Using CBH for anti cancer therapies improves the sustainability of chocolate production by minimizingthe waste products in the process.

Cacao nibs are the dried cacao beans with the husk removed in a process called winnowing.
Cacao nibs are the dried cacao beans with the husk removed in a process called winnowing.

The process and the by-product used to create CBH extract carry a much lower production cost than synthesized anti cancer pharmaceuticals. Finally, because CBH extract is still a food product, it can be offered to cancer patients without much of the concern for toxicity that is common to chemotherapeutic products.[viii]

In reality an individual patient’s reaction to any anticancer treatment is as varied as the ways we take our chocolate. But components of Theobroma cacao are offering promising cancer inhibiting properties that greatly warrant continued study. [ix]That said, chocolate in its well-known form offers palliative care to many patients as well. A taste treat cheers us, particularly when given as a gift or with a smile. A cheerful outlook is a powerful antidote to the terrors of cancer.

Dr. I Min Lee investigated whether sweets were somehow correlated to longevity. The study showed hat the longest lives were lived by those who eat candy regularly and in moderation.[x] Physically and emotionally we can be said to live by the sweat of the stars.[xi]

Works Cited

Zainal Baharum, e. a. (2014). In Vitro Antioxident and Antiproliferative Activities in Methanolic Pland Part Extracts of Theobroma cacao. Molecules , 19 (11), 18317-18331.

Carlota Oleaga, e. a. (2012). CYP1A! is overexpresed upon incubation of breast cancer cells with a polyphenolic cacao extract. European Journal of NUtrition , 51, 465-476.

I Min Lee, R. P. (1998). Life is Sweet; Candy Consumption and Longevity. British Medical Journal , 317 (7174), 1683-1684.

Ki Won Lee, e. a. (2005). Extraction and chromagraphic separation of anticarcinogenic fractions from cacao bean husk. BioFactors (23), 141-150.

Sophie D. Coe, M. D. (2013). The True History of Chocolate (3rd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson.

End notes

[ii] (Sophie D. Coe, 2013)

[iii] (Zainal Baharum, 2014)

[iv] (Zainal Baharum, 2014)

[v] (Sophie D. Coe, 2013)

{vi]Carlota Oleaga, 2012)

[vii] (Ki Won Lee, 2005)

[viii] (Zainal Baharum, 2014)

[ix] (Carlota Oleaga, 2012)

[x] (I Min Lee, 1998)

[xi] (Sophie D. Coe, 2013)

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