Question: How Does Chocolate Make People Happy?
Answer: If you ask people why they love chocolate so much, many will tell you they love it because it makes them so happy. In fact, there are few other foods that seem to make so many people as happy as chocolate does. But how does chocolate make us happy?
Part of the answer lies in the eating quality of chocolate. The flavor (unmatched by any other food I know), the rich aroma, and the melt-in-your-mouth texture combine to make legions of chocolate-lovers very happy indeed. But there’s a lot more to the answer. Much of chocolate’s ability to make people happy lies in the unique group of compounds and chemicals that come together in chocolate.
There are over 300 naturally-occurring chemicals in chocolate. Several of them have positive effects on human moods. Consider tryptophan, one chemical found in chocolate. Tryptophan releases the neurotransmitter serotonin into the brain. Serotonin is a mood-lifter, but it’s not the only chemical in chocolate that makes people happy. Consuming chocolate also releases the neurotransmitter phenylethylamine, the so-called “love drug”. Phenylethylamine quickens the pulse, causes alertness and a degree of excitement, and makes people happy—in fact, it arouses the same sorts of feelings people experience when they’re in love. Eating chocolate also releases endorphins into the brain, and endorphins are known to lessen levels of stress and pain.
Finally, one of the lipids (fats) in chocolate is anandamide, from the Sanskrit word for “bliss”. Anandamide stimulates a receptor in the brain to cause the production of dopamine. In turn, dopamine causes an intense sensation of well-being, akin to that felt by individuals who are high. Interestingly, THC, the compound in marijuana responsible for making people high when they smoke or ingest it, activates the same receptor in the brain as anandamide. However, anandamide and THC do not work the same way, and you’d have to eat over 20 pounds of chocolate in one sitting to get the same effects as you would from THC.
If this information had been available when I was in high school, I assure you that I would have paid much more attention in chemistry class! But now you know how chocolate makes people happy.