Theobromine does not affect postprandial lipid metabolism and duodenal gene expression, but has unfavorable effects on postprandial glucose and insulin responses in humans

Lotte Smolders, Ronald P. Mensink, Mark V. Boekschoten, Rogier J. J. de Ridder, Jogchum Plat*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background & aims: Chocolate consumption is associated with a decreased risk for CVD. Theobromine, a compound in cocoa, may explain these effects as it favorably affected fasting serum lipids. However, long-term effects of theobromine on postprandial metabolism as well as underlying mechanisms have never been studied. The objective was to evaluate the effects of 4-week theobromine consumption (500 mg/day) on fasting and postprandial lipid, lipoprotein and glucose metabolism, and duodenal gene expression.

Methods: In a randomized, double-blind crossover study, 44 healthy men and women, with low baseline HDL-C concentrations consumed 500 mg theobromine or placebo daily. After 4-weeks, fasting blood was sampled and subjects participated in a 4-h postprandial test. Blood was sampled frequently for analysis of lipid and glucose metabolism. In a subgroup of 10 men, 5 h after meal consumption duodenal biopsies were taken for microarray analysis.

Results: 4-weeks theobromine consumption lowered fasting LDL-C (-0.21 mmol/L; P = 0.006), and apoB100 (-0.04 g/L; P = 0.022), tended to increase HDL-C (0.03 mmol/L; P = 0.088) and increased hsCRP (1.2 mg/L; P = 0.017) concentrations. Fasting apoA-I, TAG, FFA, glucose and insulin concentrations were unchanged. In the postprandial phase, theobromine consumption increased glucose (P = 0.026), insulin (P = 0,011) and FFA (P = 0.003) concentrations, while lipids and (apo)lipoproteins were unchanged. In duodenal biopsies, microarray analysis showed no consistent changes in expression of genes, pathways or gene sets related to lipid, cholesterol or glucose metabolism.

Conclusions: It is not likely that the potential beneficial effects of cocoa on CVD can be ascribed to theobromine. Although theobromine lowers serum LDL-C concentrations, it did not change fasting HDL-C, apoA-I, or postprandial lipid concentrations and duodenal gene expression, and unfavorably affected postprandial glucose and insulin responses. This trial was registered on under study number NCT02209025. (C) 2017 Elsevier Ltd and European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)719-727
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Nutrition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • Theobromine
  • Postprandial
  • Lipid metabolism
  • Glucose metabolism
  • Microarray
  • TYPE-2
  • FAT

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