Psychological Effects

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Chocolate is purported to have a range of psychological effects, including enhanced arousal and cognitive function, stimulation of feelings of wellbeing and euphoria, as well as initiating cravings. The orosensory aspects of chocolate, including its taste, smell and texture, certainly contribute to chocolate's positive appeal. Chocolate contains large amounts of fat in the form of cocoa butter, which melts at body temperature producing a pleasurable melt-in-the-mouth experience. Chocolate also often contains large amounts of sugar and thus satisfies the seemingly innate preference for sweet, high-fat, foods (Bruinsma & Taren 1999).

In addition to unique sensory properties, chocolate also contains many pharmacologically active substances. Several endogenous biogenic amines with sympathomimetic properties are found in chocolate, most notably tyramine and phenylethylamine (Hurst 1982). Phenylethylamine is an amphetamine analogue structurally related to methylenedioxymethamphetamine that may act to potentiate dopaminergic and noradrenergic neurotransmission and modulate mood (Bruinsma & Taren 1999).

Cocoa is also known to contain methylxanthines, including caffeine and theobromine, both of which are stimulants. Although the stimulatory and sympathomimetic effects of caffeine are well documented the psychological effects of theobromine are less certain.

A group of biologically active constituents, including N-oleoylethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine, have been identified in chocolate and appear to be related to anandamide, the 'internal bliss' chemical, which is the endogenous lipoprotein that binds cannabinoid receptors within the brain (Di Tomaso 1996). Although is has been suggested that these compounds may elicit heightened sensitivity and euphoria by directly activating cannabinoid receptors or by increasing anandamide levels (Bruinsma & Taren 1999), measurements have suggested that their amounts in cocoa is several orders of magnitude below those required to reach the blood and cause observable central effects (Di Marzo et al 1998).

Chocolate craving, which is reported to be the most common food craving (Weingarten & Elston 1991), is more common in women, with fluctuations occurring with hormonal changes just before and during the menses (Rozin et al 1991). The basis for chocolate craving, however, remains undetermined, but it is suggested that aroma, sweetness, texture and calorie content are likely to play a more important role © 2007 Elsevier Australia

in chocolate cravings than pharmacological factors (Bruinsma & Taren 1999, Michener & Rozin 1994, Rozin et al 1991, Smit et al 2004).

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