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Cocoa: Food of the Gods | Simon Waslander | TEDxUniversityofGroningen

Cocoa: Food of the Gods | Simon Waslander | TEDxUniversityofGroningen


Translator: Emma Gon
Reviewer: Denise RQ Now, let’s try to imagine
something extraordinary. Let’s try to imagine a society
without heart disease, where someone who is 80 years old has the same blood pressure
as someone who is 20; where there is
no heart attacks, no strokes. What would a society like that look like? Would it be a futuristic society where all the people have
robots and flying cars, advanced medical technology
such as nanomedicine and gene therapy? This is starting to sound like
a science fiction novel, isn’t it? But it’s not. Say hello to the Kuna Indians who live off of the Caribbean
coast of Panama. These indigenous people are
one of the few populations on Earth that do not have hypertension. And on the Kuna islands, cardiovascular
diseases are almost non-existent. And as a nice bonus,
these guys also have a much lower incidence
of cancer and heart disease. Pretty awesome stuff, right? This begs the question, though, what is the reason
and the cause behind this? A) Is it their genetics? As we’ve just got
an awesome TED presentation that genetics could play a large role. Is it b) their indigenous diet? OK. Is it c) their stress-free
Indian life style? Who thinks is a)? Who thinks is b)? Raise your hands. Who thinks it’s c)? Well, the answer is b),
which even surprised Harvard researchers. But what is it precisely in the Kuna diet that causes all of these possible results? Well, believe or not, it’s cocoa. The Kuna consume up to
five cups of natural cocoa a day, which is the highest natural cocoa
intake of any population on Earth. Although the consumption of natural cocoa
is rare in our modern day society, the Kuna are certainly not
the first population to have felt cocoa’s curative properties, as cocoa has a long
and celebrated medical history. Theobroma cacao which is
the scientific name for the cocoa tree, which is derived from Greek, literally means cocoa, “food of the gods”. And with good reason
as it has been in along celebrated history by Mesoamerican
and Southamerican Indians, for its curative properties. It was seen as a gift
from the gods themselves, and it was treated as a divine elixir. Only high ranking men
in these Indian communities have the honor to drink cocoa, such as high priests,
generals, and nobility. The only exception to this rule was
if you were a human sacrifice, a sacrifice to the gods themselves. You had the honor of drinking your first and only cup of cocoa
right before they killed you. Obviously, cocoa doesn’t have any long lasting,
health benefits in this context, but it is pretty good. The Mayans went so far
in their glorification of cocoa that they had their own cocoa God. This handsome guy right
here is called Ek Chuah, I’m probably saying it wrong,
but hey, I can’t speak Mayan. They honored Ek Chuah each year in a lavish festival
with sacrifices and gifts because they saw cocoa
as a truly divine elixir. During the conquest of the New World, the Spanish conquistadors quickly noticed
cocoa curative properties and as such, saw its value
as a trade product. It was subsequently export to Europe where it quickly became a favorite treat
amongst the wealthy classes. Between the 16th and 20th century, no less than 100 medical uses
were described for cocoa. The natural cocoa I have discussed
in the previous slides, and which the Kuna drink
in such large quantities, is quite bitter and quite frankly,
– I’ve tried it -, tastes really bad. During the 19th century
we invented the processes to make what we now know
as the modern day version of chocolate; the stuff you buy in the supermarkets. Sadly, these very processes destroy
much of cocoa curative properties and because of this, doctors soon forgot
about cocoa as a medicine. It wasn’t until the 1990s, when researchers regain
their interest in cocoa. Now, what does 21st century
medicine have to say about cocoa? Let us go back to the Kuna study. The most striking feature
the researchers found in the Kuna study was that these Indians had
an average blood pressure of 100/70, which is the medical text book
definition of a perfect blood pressure. Even at the age of 65, these people
maintain that perfect blood pressure. This in itself is remarkable as the average blood pressure,
– as you can see in the chart behind me – for a person living in the United Kingdom is almost 140, as you could see
from the red dotted line. That’s an almost 30 point difference. At the same time, 40%
of the people in the same age group will be taking anti-hypertensive drugs because their doctors deem
their blood pressure so high that there is a threat to their health. But it gets even better than that. The Harvard researchers
looked at the relative risks of dying from various diseases and they compared the Kuna Indians
living on the San Blas Islands with their mainland cousins
living in Panama City. And what they found
was truly extraordinary. When it comes to diabetes,
people living in Panama City have an age adjusted higher relative risk
of dying of 3.7 times. When it comes to ischemic heart disease – which is a fancy word
for a heart attack – if you live in Panama City,
you were five times more likely to die of a heart attack than the Indians
living on the San Blas Islands. But it gets even better. If you look at cancer,
people living in Panama have more than 15 times higher
chance of dying from cancer and although this might sound
too good to be true, stroke is almost non-existent
on the San Blas Islands. True, this is an observational study which probably has
many confounding factors, but what we do know is that cocoa plays a large role
in attaining these results. And it is not just
the Kuna study that says that cocoa has potentially
health beneficial effects. There is a large body of research including several dozens clinical trials, systematical reviews, meta analyses and even a Cochrane review that all indicate that cocoa has
the following health benefits, which include a significant decrease
in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, which reduces for example
your odds of getting a stroke. A significant decrease
for insulin resistance which is quite advantageous
if you have diabetes, or if you like drinking lots of Coca-Cola. A significant improvement
in cholesterol and lipid markers. Cholesterol is a fancy word
for the stuff that clogs your arteries after you eat a pizza or a hamburger. And a significant improvement
in cardiovascular function, which is great if you don’t want
to get a heart attack. Furthermore, clinical trials show that cocoa also has
no significant side effects, at least in the short term. And there is a large body
of historical and anecdotal evidence that indicates that cocoa is
a relatively safe substance. Emperor Montezuma and his followers
of approximately 50 people would drink up
to two dozen cups of cocoa a day. That’s probably an unhealthy dosage, but it does indicates
that cocoa is a relatively safe substance. You cannot say that for aspirin. Furthermore, cocoa is dirt cheap. As you can see from
the drawing behind me, cocoa pods are grown
in some of the poorest countries on Earth. Cocoa is harvested
by some of the poorest people on Earth, and the Kuna who consume it
in such large quantities are one of the most socially deprived
and impoverished communities in Panama. This isn’t some fancy
10,000 dollars a month medication, this is something we can readily afford
if we really want to. But why am I standing here?
Why is this important? Because in 2010 alone, cardiovascular disease,
hypertension, diabetes, and cancer killed over 23 million people;
in 2010 alone. These four factors in aggregate,
as you can see from the pie chart, account for over 44%
of all deaths worldwide. And it’s not just deaths and suffering,
the economic toll is also huge. According to a study conducted by Harvard
and the Word Economic Forum these diseases caused
the world economy in aggregate over 1.4 trillion dollars each year. Just to illustrate that, that’s the equivalent
of the entire Spanish economy. That’s a lot of money. And as bad as all of this may sound,
it’s only going to get worse as global population
and life expectancy increase in unison. According to this graph,
which is based on UN projections, by 2050, more than 20%
of people will be 60 years and older, which means these chronic diseases
that I’ve mentioned will increase in the coming decades, making the burden
even larger that it is today. Is cocoa a cure? Well, it can be part of a solution. Cocoa is definitively not
a stand alone treatment. If you have cancer, hypertension,
diabetes, or heart disease, taking cocoa alone will not cure you. But as an addition
to standard treatment protocols or as a dietary recommendation
for higher risk patient groups, such as people with obesity,
cocoa shows large potential. What could that mean in practical terms, if we put it in standard
treatment protocols, and if we give some people cocoa? Well, let us just imagine
if we can reduce disease burden on a global scale by just 1%. Not a holy grail, not some kind
of breakthrough, but just 1%. That would means saving 14 billion dollars
each year in medical expenses. Which is the equivalent
of the entire Dutch budget deficit. It would mean saving
over 230,000 lives each year which is the same
as all of the citizens of Groningen, plus a bonus of 40,000 people. But this doesn’t just consider
strangers or other people, it is also important for you, as it is a sad and horrifying fact
that in a country like Holland you or a loved one will probably struggle with one of the diseases
I’ve just mentioned. As I’ve discussed in the previous slides, cocoa has a rich medical history. 21st century research shows that is has potentially
large effects on human health; it has little to no known side effects,
and lastly, it is dirt cheap. Therefore, cocoa has
the potential to improve the quality of life of millions of people who suffer each and every day
from these horrendous diseases. And that is a goal worth pursuing. That’s why we should start taking
cocoa as medical potential seriously for it is truly a gift from the gods. Thank you for your attention,
and let’s make a difference. (Applause)

31 thoughts on “Cocoa: Food of the Gods | Simon Waslander | TEDxUniversityofGroningen”

  1. I really appreciate everything you said about cocoa. But saying it will be cheap because of slave labor is not ok. It needs to be Fair Trade Certified, kind and generous with appreciation toward the farmers.

  2. Get it right its cacao not cocoa
    Theobroma cacao. Cocoa is processed form found in most chocolate. Cacao is raw natural form.

  3. The healthy cultures are also not eating fast food… Probably more plants than anything else. Cacao is not the cure for heart disease and diabetes, it's more of a party drug than anything else.

  4. Just before 8 minutes and he says that Montezuma and his guys ate up to 2,000 cups of cacoa a day.. something sounds really wrong with that number sorry…

  5. The British invented the chocolate bar, Joseph Fry.
    The Swiss invented the milk chocolate bar , about 25 years later in the 1870s.

  6. I think his message it accurate to a point except the Kuna Indians have perfect blood pressure mostly likley because they don't sit in cubicles or bombarded with junk food commerical on their TVs every day. They probably dont eat much processed foods and walk alot. They also probably do very physical labor in order to eat and survive unlike in America. Yes cacao helps but it cannot reverse the unhealthy lifestyle of the modern western man.

  7. Apart from physical health benefits cocoa (or cacao) has very significant effect on mental health. Containing powerful coctail of theobromine, anandamide and tryptophan has positive effects on psychic health. It brings feelings of joy and happiness so it can largely benefit in treating depressions. Ananadamide plays a role in human behaviour, sleep patterns and pain relief and tryptophan is directly metabolised into serotonin, an important neurotransmitter contributing to happiness and other cognitive functions such as memory and learning.

  8. Cacao comes from Africa and South America. Europeans always try and take credit and claim they came up with the name and etc . A typical Caucasian story that people starting not to believe .

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