A Delicious Addiction

by Sam Malone


Anyone who has a chocolate addiction knows just how difficult it is to keep away from what was known by the Aztecs as the ‘food of the gods’. Those who scoff at such notions, quoting inconclusive scientific studies to bolster their argument that chocolate is not addictive, have obviously never been through the craving that plagues the chocolate addict. They should learn about some of the compounds that make chocolate such a delicious but oh so addictive treat!

Made from the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree, chocolate is the food that is most craved for globally. It contains several chemical compounds that are associated with moods and emotions, a fact borne out by the many people who like to eat chocolate when they are depressed or stressed.

Four of these chemical compounds are known to trigger the release of mood enhancing chemicals and neurotransmitters within the brain. They are phenylethylamine, theobromine, anandamine and tryptophan.

Phenylethylamine is believed by scientists to cause the release mesolimbic dopamine in the pleasure centers of the brain, a process similar to what happens during an orgasm. This is probably the reason why so many women claim to find chocolate to be better than sex! However, before all you men start blaming chocolates for the lack of sex in your life, you should know that very little phenylethylamine actually reaches the brain.

The obromine has a stimulating effect that is similar to caffeine, but of a much lesser intensity. While withdrawal from theobromine can cause migraines, it is unlikely that this compound by itself can cause cravings for chocolate.

Anandamine has an similar effect to marijuana on receptors in the brain. While chocolate doesn’t contain enough of this compound to produce the high that smoking marijuana gives, it could be one of the causes of chocolate craving.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is needed by the body to produce serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that calms and relaxes people and creates a sense of well-being. This probably is one reason why people eat chocolates during times of anxiety.

However, it is still unclear what causes the cravings for chocolate and whether the craving is based on a physical or psychological need for chocolate. If you are uncertain as to whether you are a chocoholic or not, then ask yourself if you ever eat chocolates to handle feelings of stress, anxiety, loneliness or depression. Do you experience an intense and uncontrollable craving for chocolate? If yes, then there is a likelihood that you are addicted to chocolates and need help. A self-help group may be just what the doctor ordered.

References

  1. http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro01/web2/Slaughter.html

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