Chocolate Can Really Make You Happy
Chocolate is usually described as comfort food, reward food and, for girls, break-up food. It is like the bitterness makes you feel better.
Chocolate is called “love drug”, “pleasure drug” and “happiness drug” and considered the most widely consumed psychoactive drug. There are a few reasons and many bioactive substances that explain why chocolate makes us feel good.
Chocolate contains a number of natural mood-lifters like phenylethylamine that is natural anti-depressant, associated with the butterfly feeling when falling in love, and tryptophan – an essential amino acid that helps the brain make the neurotransmitter serotonin which makes us happy and satisfied.
Chocolate also contains alkaloids that increase heart rate like the main coffee ingredient caffeine, and theobromine a substance that has similar effect as cannabis – causes relaxation and stress relief.
Another reason is the release of endorphins and happy feelings. Endorphins are molecules or neurotransmitters that trigger positive feelings and are also natural pain killers. For example, endorphins are also released after workout, massage or laughter.
When it comes to chocolate, its main ingredient cocoa signals the brain to release endorphins which results is the happy feelings. The effect is more powerful when eating dark chocolate as the cocoa content is higher.
Besides endorphins, another two neurotransmitters i.e. serotonin and dopamine can also be found in chocolate and are responsible for the good feelings and happiness.
Serotonin helps reduce depression and regulates anxiety so this is why it is considered a natural mood stabilizer. Tryptophan found in chocolate is a precursor of serotonin. When tryptophan is not abundant in the diet there is less serotonin, more anxiety and depression.
The anandamide found in chocolate binds to the cannabinoid receptors that are usually sensitive to tetrahydrocannabinol largely known as THC or the psychoactive molecule of cannabis. These receptors trigger production of dopamine which causes the feeling of being high.
Dopamine helps control the pleasure center in the brain. Chocolate contains tryamine derived from tyrosine which is a precursor of dopamine. Increase in dopamine levels signals the brain that “it should take more of the thing that makes it feel good”. This is why we go back for more chocolate.
Is chocolate addictive?
Because of the taste, smell, texture, psychoactive effect and good feelings chocolate triggers, we often crave it. When going to extremes people become addicted to chocolate and turn into chocoholics. Food addiction has three major components:
- lack of control over the craving
- continued use in spite of bad consequences
Research has shown that all these component can be identified in people exhibiting different relationships with food. Still, chocolate addiction is not considered a true addiction, and also there is no official medical diagnosis “chocoholic”.
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