I bet as mid-February rolls around you have one thing on your mind – chocolate. Or, maybe love? Nope. Chocolate! Ah, what is it about that perfect piece of chocolate that makes you want to purr with delight? And, since this is a neuroscience blog, what is the scoop on chocolate and the brain? Why do some people crave chocolate so much that nothing else will do?
Scientists have studied cocoa and chocolate for years in search of answers. I imagine that involved eating a lot of chocolate! They have identified over 300 chemicals in cocoa products, some of which have the potential to be neuro-active. However, these compounds are present in tiny amounts and once eaten, it is difficult to know how much of each reaches the brain. Compounds studied include tryptophan and serotonin - associated with feelings of relaxation; caffeine and theobromine which act as neural stimulants to increase alertness; phenylethylamine which promotes brain release of dopamine which is associated with pleasure. As always, there is that contingent of scientists that find cannabinoids hold the key to everything. They theorize that either cannabinoid-mimics or agents boosting release of brain-produced cannabinoids produce the pleasurable effects of chocolate. In related studies, eating chocolate prompts brain production of natural