Eric Bakker N.D.May 18, 2022

Chocolate helps stimulate the release of the "happy" neurotransmitters like endorphins, serotonin, and other opiates in the brain. These hormones influence how we feel and help elicit specific feelings and successfully alleviate tension and pain, which is why chocolate is considered a comfort food.

Eric Bakker Naturopath » Recipes » Chocolate

Do You Love Chocolate?

I often think of chocolate as your psychoactive cocktail. Did you know that about 50% of women reportedly claim to prefer chocolate instead of sex? In addition, more than 300 different chemical constituent compounds in chocolate have been identified. Chocolate clearly delivers far more than a brief sugar high.

Here is a funny page you can look at with plenty of facts about chocolate. It mentions that in 2007, a UK study suggested that eating dark chocolate was more rewarding than passionate kissing, and that “more research is needed to replicate this result”.

There is no doubt, chocolate really is a weakness for many patients I’ve seen over the years, especially for many women. Chocolate truly is a dual-edged sword, and it can be equally a pleasure as well as a pain. When I think of chocolate, I immediately think of the “forty, flatulent, fat and fertile” woman. That is, many female patients I have known just can’t say no, they are literally drawn to the dark stuff. Some of the cases I have seen are absolutely remarkable, and I have seen a strong link between chocolate and gallbladder problems and if you think about it you will understand why. There are many different medical websites that recommend avoiding chocolate with gallbladder problems.

Chocolate is a very tasty yet fatty food indeed, and a concentrated form of fat like chocolate (or cheese) requires a lot of bile to help emulsify it in the small intestine. Bile is a greenish substance produced by your liver yet stored in the gallbladder. We are almost always told of the immense benefits of dark chocolate, but rarely are told about the dark side of chocolate, pardon the pun.

There are ways to enjoy this irresistible indulgence and manage those cravings without going crazy. For starters, keep away from that crappy cheap chocolate. I’m sure you know the type of chocolate I mean, you will have bought that cheap chocolate on occasion which left a rather bad taste in your mouth. I had some chocolate given to me several months ago that was truly awful, and it made me appreciate the better quality chocolate.

Eat Dark Chocolate

You will have heard this many times before no doubt – eat dark chocolate with a high cocoa solids of at least 70%,  as it has more of the health-promoting antioxidants known as flavonols or polyphenols. Recent research has revealed that this form of chocolate has a mild anti-coagulant effect, which means they your blood will flow a little bit thinner which reduces the chance of developing an artery-blocking clot, may help to prevent a stroke and even have an effect of  lowering blood pressure. The trick is to eat one or two squares a night – not half a family-sized block!

Buy cocoa powder and make up a delicious hot chocolate drink at night, add skim milk and hold the sugar – there is enough flavour in the cocoa for you to enjoy this drink without the added sweetness. Always remember to eat to eat dark chocolate only in small amounts. Dark chocolate has a more intense flavour than milk chocolate so you should feel satisfied with just one or two squares. Is it any wonder women love this stuff? And the supermarkets know all about it, you will often find chocolate prominently displayed along the isles where it is within quick reach.

How Does Chocolate Effect The Brain?

For those still doubting that chocolate is a real drug, chocolate contains a chemical which is related to cannabis, small quantities of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid found in the brain. Chocolate has an action on the brain somewhat related to opium, and like other palatable sweet foods, consumption of chocolate causes the release of endorphins, your body’s own internal opiates – the “feel good” hormones. Research has found that this enhanced endorphin release actually helps to reduce a chocolate-eater’s sensitivity to pain. Endorphins probably contribute to that warm inner glow induced in susceptible chocoholics.

Chemicals Linking Headaches and Chocolate

1 . Phenylethylamine

Chocolate is actually related in a chemical sense to amphetamines, and phenylethylamine is a chemical in the body that is similar to an amphetamine, and is responsible for mood swings. As with amphetamines, phenylethylamine may cause an initial lift in the mood, but is then followed by a crash in mood a short while later.

It is a fact that those who suffer from mood swings or who suffer from depression are often drawn to chocolate. It is believed that phenylethylamine causes blood vessels to dilate in the brain, thereby causing headaches.  Phenylethylamine is known as chocolate’s “love-chemical” and is itself a naturally occurring amine in the brain, which peaks during orgasm. Taken in unnaturally high doses, phenylethylamine can produce behaviour more prominent even than amphetamine. The amazing thing about chocolate is that it helps mediate feelings of attraction, excitement, giddiness, apprehension and euphoria. What is even more amazing is that this brown stuff containing hundreds of different chemicals is totally legal, readily available and all without a doctor’s prescription.

2. Theobromine

Theobromine is a small component of chocolate and is actually a mildly toxic compound. Caffeine is also present in chocolate and a toxic component to a degree, but in much smaller amounts than theobromine. Both theobromine and caffeine are members of a drug class called methylxanthines. Although theobromine is a weaker stimulant than caffeine, it can increase the pulse rate, and withdrawal from theobromine can cause migraine headaches. We all know about the headaches from caffeine withdrawal, don’t we know?  Unsweetened cooking (baker’s) chocolate contains 8-10 times more theobromine than milk chocolate does. Semi-sweet chocolate falls roughly in between the two for theobromine content. White chocolate contains theobromine, but in such small amounts.  Have you ever heard that chocolate is actually toxic to dogs? Humans can break down and excrete theobromine much more efficiently than dogs.

3. Tyramine

Tyramine is an amino acid which causes blood vessels to expand and contract, resulting in dull headaches. Tyramine products have been associated with headaches and hypertension for a long time.Tyramine is found in high amounts in chocolate, wine, beer, cheese, beans, liver, and other foods.  These are the foods which are associated with migraine and other headaches in certain individuals, especially in women.

Pre-Menstrual Chocolate Craving 

Many premenstrual women can relate to chocolate cravings, I have found this to be absolutely true in my clinic. Acute monthly cravings for chocolate amongst pre-menstrual women may be partly explained by its rich magnesium content. Magnesium deficiency exacerbates premenstrual tension.

Before menstruation, too, levels of the hormone progesterone are high. Progesterone promotes fat storage, preventing its use as fuel; and thus elevated pre-menstrual levels of progesterone may cause a periodic craving for fatty foods like chocolate. One study reported that a huge 91% of chocolate-cravings associated with the menstrual cycle occurred between ovulation and the start of menstruation. Chocolate cravings are admitted by around 40% of women and are usually most intense in the late afternoon and early evening.

Should I Eat Chocolate?

With all this contradictory information about the chemicals in chocolate, you probably have no idea whether or not to eat it. As with most substances, you have to figure out how it affects you and you alone. You might find that you can eat a small amount of chocolate with no effects, but larger amounts cause noticeable changes in mood. The rate at which the psychoactive chemicals affect you depends on several factors, including the capability of your liver’s detox pathways in handling the sweet and fatty load. It’s really a matter of experimentation.

When you look at the above information, you can see that the ingredients in chocolate can be a possible trigger of headaches, heartburn, restlessness, insomnia, mood changes, higher pulse rate, and anxiety. On a personal level with many patients over the years in the clinic, I have found this to be true. Naturopaths generally recommend consuming chocolate sensibly and in moderation, and preferably not with alcohol or other foods which impact on your liver so profoundly. Ultimately only you can decide what’s best for you.



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