Chocolate’s Got It Goin’ On…

…and you might too, if you eat enough of it (But not 25 pounds of it (You’ll see)).

To many, chocolate is that dark, magical, mystical answer to life (Imagine Madeline Kahn singing “Sweet Mystery of Life.”) (Well, ok, maybe not). But I hope you get the drift.

Psychologically, chocolate is great, but, then again, I’m a guy. For quite a few women, from what I’ve read and been told direct from the source, is that women claim it’s fantastic! Again, I hope you get the drift. Men are not quite as influenced by the effects of chocolate as women are. This holds up in research, as well, and is not just my own opinion. Also, the effects of all of the different compounds in chocolate (300+) affect different people in different ways, such as length of time effects are felt, and the degree to which they affect the individual. So, if one person shrugs his or her shoulders when talking about the effects of this food, while another person melts into a puddle of phenethylamine/anandamide induced bliss, it can be understandable. By the way, “anada,” a Sanskrit word, means “bliss.”

Chocolate has several things that make it the wonder food that people claim it to be.

Here are just some of the things that are found in chocolate, but in no particular order of significance: First is caffeine. Second is theobromine. Third is anandamide. Finally, there’s phenethylamine (PEA). This last component is what makes chocolate “all that” for so many people. There are many, many more components of chocolate, but I’m just going to cover a few, here…  kinda like the “Hollywood hormones”, if you will. They get top billing.

Caffeine

The caffeine (a vasoconstrictor) in chocolate is slight and helps by adding just a tiny bit of flutter that doesn’t hammer you like coffee or Red Bull does. It also helps increase blood flow to the brain that helps with alertness. Serotonin levels are increased because of caffeine, as well. Serotonin is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter/hormone. When lower levels of serotonin register, then depression may be lurking around at some level.

Theobromine

Theobromine (Greek: “Theo”/God, “broma”/food = “Food of the gods”) is a relative of caffeine, but it has lesser effects, generally, than caffeine does. Theobromine is also a vasodilator (dilates blood vessels). This is interesting for both men and women, but I won’t get into the messy, gory details in this post. I’ll just let your mind wander a bit. (Hint: People of past ages and the present time consider chocolate as an aphrodisiac.) One of the less exotic uses of Theobromine is its use for treating high blood pressure. Go figure, eh? (Is this how Viagra works?) While caffeine can get you amped up in a general sense, Theobromine is a stronger cardiac stimulant. Also, as a vasodilator, it can be the cause of headaches.

Anandamide

Anandamide is a cannabinoid.  If the word cannabinoid sounds a bit familiar, it’s because it is associated with cannabis. Yeah, THAT cannabis. They are pharmacologically similar. Cannabinoids are mind-altering substances. Anandamide binds to the same receptor sites on neurons that THC (from marijuana) does, and it’s almost as potent as THC is, although the amounts of it are not found in as great a concentration. In fact, while doing research for this article, I read that one would have to eat 25 pounds of chocolate in order to get the same high that one would get from smoking marijuana. I told my fiancée this, and she said, “And there’s a problem with that?” (Please, refer back to the first long paragraph in this article for a corroborating statement.) As it is, anandamide activates the pleasure receptors in the brain that allows so much more to happen in the way of feeling good. Anandamide occurs naturally in the brain, so eating chocolate is a great addition to this. Further research for this article brought to light the fact that there are two components in chocolate that slows the breakdown of anandamide in the brain, thereby increasing levels of it. This sounds similar to what’s known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that is used in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders.

I’m just sayin’…

Phenethylamine

Phenethylamine (PEA) is the hero in this here picture. It is present in chocolate in small amounts, but small amounts are all we really need to help shift our moods one way or another. It’s a neurotransmitter, and it functions similar to an amphetamine. It aids in the release of norepinephrine and dopamine into the brain (increasing the heart rate).  Both of these are responsible for greater levels of continual concentration and cognitive alertness (Read: Those obsessive thoughts we have of the object of our desire when we are first in love).  As a reminder, it’s dopamine that is associated with higher levels of pleasure (and sexual arousal). Phenethylamine also acts as an initiator for endorphins. Endorphins create an analgesic effect in the body, reducing pain. Just in passing, I have to mention the “Big ‘O’.” When we are first “in love,” we have this giddy feeling. We can’t eat or sleep or concentrate. All of this can be contributed to levels of PEA in our brain. Getting back to the “Big ‘O’,” levels of phenethylamine are greatly increased in those rapturous moments. Now, while we can’t really get the same level of feelings by munchin’ on a Kit Kat as we can by having an orgasm, we are able to feel traces of these things. That’s why chocolate’s got it goin’ on.

One last several points. The purpose of this article is to talk about chocolate and why it’s so popular. That popularity is tied in with feelings of love — Seriously!  But, things are much more complicated than that, especially when one looks at the multitude of chemical compounds found in chocolate. The hormones and neurotransmitters that influence our minds as they affect our brains just through the normal course of our days… and even more so for those of us who are blessed to be in love, can be enhanced by eating chocolate. Chocolate cannot replace a warm smile or a touch. Chocolate won’t ever replace laughter in a shared moment. Chocolate won’t ever do a whole lot of things. The one thing it can do, though, is to give us a five minute vacation (Remember Almond Joy?), where the effects can go on for a bit longer, afterward.  There’s not a single thing wrong with that…  especially if the chocolate comes from the one with whom we are in love with.

So, here’s the deal, in short: Chocolate equates with feelings of love. A lot of the chemical compounds in it do the same things for us as happens to us when we fall in love (or are already in love, but that special person does something “more special-er” for us). There are other topics that deal with the use of chocolate in: weight loss, heart health, blood pressure regulation, reduction of insulin resistance, possible reduction in fatigue, improved arterial blood flow, as well as other things. It’s all very fascinating to look at. But, I don’t want to ruin it for you, for, just as Mark Twain once said, “We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow as the savage has, because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we have gained by prying into that matter.” I don’t want to ruin the simple enjoyment of this treat and everything it brings by looking too closely at it.  There is only one thing you have to remember, really…

Chocolate’s got it goin’ on.


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One Response to Chocolate’s Got It Goin’ On…

  1. You’ve talked about chocolate so much I’m headed to my kitchen to make ganache and perhaps tomorrow some truffles. 😀

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