Candy bars, milk shakes, cookies, flavored coffee — even cereal and medicine! Chocolate is a key ingredient in many foods. In fact, it ranks as the favorite flavor of many of us. And yet, few of us know the unique gist of this popular treat.
One of the most pleasurable effects of eating chocolate is the “good feeling” many people experience after indulging. Chocolate contains more than three hundred chemicals. Scientists have isolated these chemicals and formed chemical compounds out from it to explain the delightful outcome people feel after consuming chocolate.
The presence of caffeine and stimulants such as theobromine and phenylethylamine in chocolate may provide the “lift” that chocolate eaters experience. All of these stimulants increase the activity of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) in parts of the brain that control our ability to pay attention and stay alert.
However, these stimulants are only for a temporary sense of well being. Scientists have conducted studies and formulated theories as to explain why people feel good after eating chocolate. Perhaps the most appealing among these are the results from the researchers of Neuroscience Institute in San Diego, California. They believe that “chocolate contains pharmacologically active substances that have the same effect on the brain as marijuana.” That may be the reason we crave for chocolates unconsciously.
How does this work?
“Brain cells have a receptor for THC (tetrehydrocannabinol), which is the active ingredient in marijuana. A receptor is a structure on the surface of a cell that can lock onto certain molecules, making it possible to carry a signal through the cell wall. The active component will lock itself to the protein on the membrane of the cell, and that triggers a reaction inside the cell. In the case of THC, that chemical reaction is what would make someone feel “high.”
THC, however, is not found in chocolate. Instead, another chemical, a neurotrasmiter called anandamide, has been isolated in chocolate. Interestingly, anandamide is also produced naturally in the brain. Scientists explain that this finding doesn’t mean that eating chocolate will get you high, but rather there are compounds in chocolate that may be associated with the good feeling that chocolate consumption provides.
Anandamide, like other neurotransmitters, however, is broken down quickly after it is produced. This means that the “good feeling” may just be fleeting as its stimulants. Well, another good thing about this food is that it also contains other chemicals which may inhibit the natural breakdown of anandamide. This means that anandamide may stick around longer, that makes us to feel good even longer, when we eat chocolate.
And…Perhaps that’s the reason we share chocolates to people we love. After all, learning from them that they feel good, seeing them feeling good could already mean our satisfaction.