What could be more enjoyable than eating a lovely piece of chocolate after a long, hard day. I wondered why it was so easy to enjoy a creamy piece of chocolate and since I had heard that it has endorphins in it, I thought I’d look further into the legend and facts on chocolate.
Depression and Eating
R. Paoletti, et al., (eds), took an interview survey of 3000 individuals who were diagnosed with depression and found that 54% craved some food, with chocolate being the most preferred (Conti, Paoletti, & Poli, 2012). The neurotransmitter dopamine has been found to be released after eating chocolate (Conti, et al., 2012). Dopamine is known to be a source of pleasure. The rewards of feeling good from the release of dopamine are an integral part of addiction, and so, when chocolate is eaten, and dopamine is released, a person suffering from depression would wish to continue eating chocolate to continue releasing the feel good chemicals.
Of course the addiction to chocolate, per se’, may be that it tastes good. Conti, et al. (2012) indicate that the carbohydrates that exist in chocolates are also found in other foods and the person may not be developing an addiction to chocolate but rather carbohydrate-rich foods (Conti, 2012).
Endorphins are released with the ingestion of carbohydrate-rich foods. These opioids help to convince the eater that they would like to have more chocolate (Pech, 2010). When one feels good, they want to continue to feel good. This is the draw to foods that release endorphins. Chocolate possesses chemicals naturally like tryptophan (an amino acid-which leads to the release of serotonin), anadamide (which affects the brain in the same regions as marijuana does), and phenylethylamine (enables the release of dopamine). These chemicals all help to produce happy or positive moods in the person who eats the food (Pech, 2010).
Nearly everyone likes chocolate. If the choices for a person’s addiction are marijuana or chocolate, I think most would choose chocolate. However an addiction to a food can be dangerous, to be sure. Over eating causes obesity, and obesity causes all kinds of health problems like Type 2 Diabetes, or high cholesterol, heart disease, or even death (Mertens, & Van Gaal, 2012). Since the 1980’s and Olivia Newton John’s song “Let’s Get Physical”, people have been working to reduce their waistlines. It does seem that obesity is becoming an epidemic in “western” cultures. It seems the more depressed that people are, the more eating they are doing. The solution to overeating—is it feeling happy? This sounds like a catch-22. A person addicted to chocolate (or food, in general) eats to feel happy, then they get obese from eating too much, then they get depressed because they are obese, so they eat more, so they feel happy, so they get more obese, and so on.
Conti, A., Paoletti, R., & Poli, A. (2012). Chocolate and health. Springer Milan. doi:10.1007/978-88-470-2038-2
Mertens, I. L., & Van Gaal, L. F. (2012). Overweight, obesity, and blood pressure: The effects of modest weight reduction. Obesity Research 8(3), 270 – 278, doi:10.1038/oby.2000.32
Pech, J. (2010). The chocolate therapist: A user’s guide to the extraordinary health benefits of chocolate. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, Inc.