Oxidative stress plays a key role in the pathogenesis of different serious chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disorders, etc. Recent research has been focused on the beneficial role of dietary antioxidants against oxidative stress both under in vitro and in vivo conditions. Theobroma cacao L. (cacao tree) is an evergreen tree which is native to South America. It is a plant of great economic importance and its seeds are commonly used to produce cocoa powder and chocolate. In addition to its uses in food industry, cocoa is a rich source of polyphenolic antioxidants. There is a plethora of in vitro and in vivo studies that report cocoa antioxidant capacity. The protective activity of cocoa seems to be due to its phytochemical constituents, especially catechins. However, bioavailability of cocoa polyphenolic constituents following oral administration is very low (nanomolar concentrations). In the present paper, we critically reviewed the available literature on the antioxidant and free radical scavenging activities of cocoa and its polyphenolic constituents. In addition to these, we provide brief information about cultivation, phytochemistry, bioavailability and clinical impacts of cocoa.
Keywords: Cocoa, catechins, antioxidant capacity, free radicals, oxidative stress.