Question: Why is Chocolate Addicting?
Answer: It’s common to hear people claim that they’re “addicted” to chocolate, but it’s usually said jokingly. Have you ever wondered, though, if such a thing is possible? Can it be that chocolate is truly addicting?
An excellent article in the Harvard Medical School Health Blog examined this very question. There have been multiple human studies done in the area of food addiction, and it will come as no surprise to the “chocoholics” reading this that chocolate is one of the most frequently-included foods in these studies. One reason for this is that foods high in both fat and sugar (like chocolate) are trigger mechanisms for reward pathways in the brain. And it’s known that chocolate contains substances that cause psychological reactions when it’s eaten (such as intense pleasure and strong cravings for more) that are similar to the reactions caused by some drugs. These substances include anandamide, a type of lipid or fat. Taken from the Sanskrit word for “bliss”, anandamide activates a receptor in the brain which causes dopamine production. Dopamine causes a strong feeling of well-being, of the type associated with being high. Interestingly, the same receptor is activated by THC, the component in marijuana that’s responsible for the “high” people feel after ingesting it.
Consuming chocolate also releases endorphins into the brain; endorphins decrease levels of both stress and pain. Chocolate consumption also releases the neurotransmitter phenylethylamine, sometimes nicknamed “the love drug”, because it causes the same types of giddy, happy feeling associated with falling in love. Another mood-lifting neurotransmitter is serotonin, released into the brain when foods containing tryptophan (like chocolate) are eaten.
This all seems like damning evidence. Have we been lied to for years? Is chocolate addicting? Well, no, not in the same way narcotics are. To begin with it, the effects on the human brain from chocolate are far milder than the effects from narcotics. For instance, it’s true that anandamide and THC activate the same receptor in the brain to produce dopamine, but you’d have to eat over twenty pounds of chocolate in one sitting to get the same effect as you would from THC. Chocolate may seem addicting from the chemicals in it that act on our brains combined with its luscious characteristics—aroma, taste, and texture, not to mention a melting point just below human body temperature that causes chocolate to literally melt in our mouths. But fortunately, despite the cravings for chocolate (which can be real and intense), it is not addicting in the way drugs are.
For more information, check out these two articles: