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Methylxanthines Rhymes With Ethel Francine: Is it Serious?

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D. Preventive Medicine

It is at least vaguely understood by most people that the use of beverages containing methylxanthines (rhymes with Ethel Francine) such as caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline cause physical or physiologic damage. It is not well known, however, that these ill effects are serious, sometimes calamitous, and may involve any organ or tissue from scalp to sole. The reason for this widespread damage is to be found in the chemical nature of methylxanthines, their ability to alter the very protoplasm of cells, and to attach or concentrate in cells for an unknown period of time.

Methylxanthines are found in coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate. The subject of this discussion is primarily chocolate.

The immediate effects of methylxanthines begin shortly after taking the drink or medication containing them, and last about four hours. After eating chocolate or drinking cocoa you may have imperfect balance, racing of the heart, high pitched voice, insomnia, fatigue, and finger tremor. Some individuals will experience an unexplained sense of dread and anxiety. Other symptoms may be delayed for hours or several days and include sleep disturbances, headache, restlessness, palpitations, tremulousness, unsteadiness, vertigo, reflex hyperexcitability, irritability, agitation, anxiety, and general discomfort.(1)

If one is accustomed to the regular use of chocolate, one may feel less alert, less contented, more sleepy and irritable when there is a delay in drinking the cocoa or eating the candy. Many troublesome diseases are made worse by methylxanthines—heart disease, allergies, diabetes, and fluid retention. Depression may be caused by them, and they most certainly contribute to our “violent society” with its crime and child abuse. Most gastrointestinal disturbances are aggravated and some are caused by methylxanthines. All of the methylxanthines have been associated with chromosome damage and deformities in the offspring of the user. Cancer is more common in those who use methylxanthines. Disease resistance is not as strong. And this is only a partial list!

Chocolate, Breast Disease, and Prostatic Hypertrophy: Apparently all methylxanthines step up cell growth in certain glandular tissues. Since they pose interference in the normal activity of certain enzymes, they act as poisons. True to their chemical classification as cellular toxins, methylxanthines shut off enzyme signals, in this instance the signal to stop growing. As a result certain glandular tissues under the influence of chocolate may begin developing cysts and fibrous tumors especially in the breast, the so-called fibrocystic disease. One young physician with full-blown fibrocystic disease was consuming a massive quantity of methylxanthines daily (1,300 milligrams), when she learned of this effect on the breasts. She stopped using coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate to determine if her breast disease would disappear. Within a month, the lumps in her breast started to subside. By two months the fibrocystic disease had disappeared. It was not without a struggle, as she suffered severe withdrawal headaches that could not be relieved even by her headache medications. It seems wise to advise women everywhere to cut out the use of methylxanthines in a breast cancer control measure.(2) Many physicians believe that the effect on the male prostate is similar to that on the female breast.

An evaluation of chocolate with a judgment as to its suitability as a food will result in condemning chocolate on three counts: (1) Its inherent chemical toxicity, (2) the additives required to make chocolate palatable, and (3) the harvesting and primary manufacture. Let us take a look at each of these factors individually:

(1) The inherent chemical characteristics of chocolate: Theobromine in chocolate is the principle methylxanthine, causing central nervous system stimulation, sleeplessness, general or localized itching, depression and anxiety.

All brands of cocoa contain more tannin per cup than the estimated 2 grains per average cup of tea. Tannins have been implicated in certain cancers of the digestive tract. Children who have a bedwetting problem will have more difficulty when given cocoa. Caffeine content may be as high as 112 milligrams per cup of cocoa beverage. Cocoa may interfere with calcium absorption.(3) The cocoa consumed by children in the mistaken hope that the addition of cocoa and sugar will increase their calcium intake, may actually tie up calcium they get from such excellent sources as whole grains, legumes, and greens. Chocolate contains 0.45 to 0.49% oxalic acid. The oxalic acid combines with calcium to form an insoluble compound, calcium oxalate, which passes out of the body unabsorbed.(4)

(2) Additives required to mask bitterness: A bitter taste is usually associated with harmful alkaloids, pyrolysates, and strongly alkaline substances. An unpleasant taste sensation is a warning signal that something potentially injurious is in the mouth. Masking the injurious agent with sugar does not eliminate the danger.

A large amount of sugar is necessary to make chocolate palatable. Furthermore, oils must be combined with chocolate in order to eliminate an unpleasant grainy consistency in chocolate. Generally milk, cream, or oil are added which produces an extremely rich and unhealthful food. Any reasonable quantity eaten is certain to obstruct digestion and cause fermentation.

(3) The natural contaminants in chocolate: Most cocoa beans are produced in countries where sanitation levels are far below those generally practiced in the United States.

The cocoa is a small, beautiful tree indigenous to the tropical regions of the world, where millions of pounds of chocolate, milk chocolate, and cocoa powder are produced annually. Cocoa is defined as the food prepared by heating and cracking the beans from the cocoa tree. Chocolate is the solid or semi-plastic food prepared by finely grinding cocoa. It must have a minimum of 50% fat.

The pods are cut from the tree, piled up in the yard of the farmer, and fermented, a process which takes from three to eight days. During this process people walk over the piles; insects, rodents, small animals and other living things make their nests in piles; and many types of contamination may occur during this primary part of the manufacture of chocolate. At the peak of the fermentation the temperature builds up, which promotes the growth of bacteria and molds. It has been shown that large quantities of aflatoxin, the cancer producing agent from the molds, can be produced in cocoa beans.(4)

The fermentation is essential for the development of the chocolate flavor. During the fermentation process the bean’s own enzymes and wild yeasts enhance the fermentation process. After fermentation the seeds are sun dried or kiln dried and are then ready to be shipped to the chocolate manufacturers where they are roasted and ground to make a chocolate “liquor” somewhat like soft peanut butter. In this stage bacterial contaminants multiply.(9)

Since sugar and fat both tend to exude from candy, additives are placed in candy to prevent the surfacing of these materials. Rancidity of the fats can usually be detected after storage at 86 degrees F from six to twelve weeks. The unpleasant flavor heralds the presence of the harmful change that occurs with aging of fats. Rancidity can be delayed by certain additives. Whipping agents and other additives provide lightness of texture.(5)

In a booklet published by the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare entitled The Food Defect Action Levels, a specifications listing of “current levels for natural or unavoidable defects in food” lists the natural defect levels in chocolate in the form of “insects, rodents and other natural contaminants” that are allowable by the Food and Drug Administration. Up to 120 insect fragments per cup or two rodent hairs per cup are allowed in chocolate and chocolate liquor used in the manufacture of such products as chocolate bars.

Four percent of cocoa beans may be infested with insects and still carry the blessing of the FDA. Visible or solid animal excreta must not exceed 10 milligrams per pound. For chocolate powder or pressed cakes there must not be more than 75 insect fragments in 3 tablespoons of the powder!

Many individuals who believe themselves to be allergic to chocolate are in fact allergic to the animal parts that are in chocolate. One 11 year old boy was hospitalized for abdominal pain and vomiting blood. He had suddenly developed purpura, tiny spots of hemorrhage in the skin all over the body. It was discovered while he was in the hospital that his attacks of skin hemorrhage and abdominal pain could be brought on within a few minutes of giving chocolate either by mouth or by scratch test in the skin. (6) Chocolate is also a common cause of “pruritus ani,” an uncomfortable itch around the anus, the terminal part of colon. Stopping the use of chocolate frequently results in prompt cessation of the itch.(6)

Should you like further information about this matter you may obtain materials from FDA Guidelines and Compliance Branch, Bureau of Foods, 200 C. St. S.W., Washington D.C. 20204

It seems uncanny that chocolate could ever have gotten to be considered a special food for children. The Ladies Home Journal way back in October, 1930, carried an ad from Baker’s Cocoa that read “The weekly treat became a daily delight and Jimmy’s weight went up.” What a shame that children have ever been allowed to have any product from cocoa. Even though chocolate might induce children to drink more milk and eat more empty calories from sugar and fat, in mice experiments the extra milk does not result in improvement in nutrition, but only makes their body fat greater.(8)

As for me, any one of the above features would banish chocolate from my dietary forever. Fortunately for us chocolate lovers, a good substitute is available that has a much more favorable manufacture and a greater likelihood of being processed under more sanitary conditions—carob. On all three counts it is a better product than chocolate. It contains no methylxanthines. It does not require sugar, being naturally slightly sweet. And most aesthetically, it does not require fermentation to develop its flavor. I recommend it as being superior.

Carob’s nutritional value:

  • Almost 8% protein (like other legumes) compared to 2-14% protein in prepackaged, sugar-laden cereals sold in the supermarkets

  • Contains a great deal of natural sugar (about 46%)

  • Contains some B vitamins

  • Contains the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium

  • Contains some trace minerals such as iron, manganese, chromium, copper, and nickel

Compared with chocolate, carob is three times richer in calcium, but has one-third less calories and seventeen times less fat.

Carob is also a rich source of pectin, which aids in digestion and elimination. Pectin is in the group of indigestible complex carbohydrates commonly called fiber. It is the substance which makes jams and jellies set up. The pectin in carob is useful for arresting simple diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Pectin settles the stomach, and like all fiber, helps take up poisons and toxins in the intestine and eliminate them from the body. Use a 5% concentration, about 1 T of carob powder to a cup of liquid, or simply make a paste of carob powder and water. Lignin is another member of the fiber family found in the “woody” part of the carob pod. Both the pectin and lignin have a beneficial cholesterol-lowering effect.(10)

References Jawik, Murray E. Psychopharmacology in the Practice of Medicine. Reviewed in the Journal of Family Practice 4(6) 1180-1888, 1977. Medical World News, March 19, 1979. Chocolate, Coca Cola, Cocoa and Coffee International Nutrition Research Foundation, Riverside, California. Journal of the Association of Official Analytical Chemists 62(5). 1076-9, September 1979. Gott, Phillip P. All about Candy and Chocolate. Chicago, Ill. National Confectioners Association, 1958. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 6(2), 1960. American Journal of Surgery, November 1951. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 32(12) 1171-4, December 1956. Applied Microbiology 20644-654, October 1970. Fleming, Diana. Country Life Cookbook. Sunfield, MI. Family Health Publications, 1990.

For more information contact: Uchee Pines Lifestyle Center 30 Uchee Pines Road #75 Seale, Alabama 36875 Tel. 334-855-4764

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