You may have heard people say that the way to a man’s heart is through his
stomach. Research on the neuroscience of love and chocolate has some interesting findings
that might surprise you.
The first step to understanding how love and chocolate are linked is to look at what happens to our brains when we fall in love. Brainhq.com ran an interesting article about research on love and the human brain. Researcher Helen Fisher has spent her academic life trying to figure out what’s going on in the brains of those who are in the heady, butterflies-in-the-stomach throes of passionate romantic love. Fisher has scanned the brains of young paramours and found that when they’re focusing on the object of their affection, a whole host of brain parts start lighting up.
Fisher sums it up eloquently: “No wonder lovers talk all night or walk till dawn, write extravagant poetry and self-revealing e-mails, cross continents or oceans to hug for just a weekend, change jobs or lifestyles, even die for one another. Drenched in chemicals that bestow focus, stamina and vigour, and driven by the motivating engine of the brain, lovers succumb to a Herculean courting urge.”
Whilst there are many complex reactions involved in the feeling of love, Fisher agrees that one of the reward systems involved is the same as the one that activates when you’re eating chocolate. In fact, chocolate and being head over heels in love are both potentially addictive. As Brainhq.com points out, it is therefore hardly surprising that other research suggests that for the brain, a bad break up is like kicking a drug habit.
Why Chocolate Makes Us Hot for Love
The Aztecs believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac. Legend has it that King Montezuma drank up to 50 cups of chocolate a day to satisfy his harem, and modern science has found ample reason to agree with his reasoning.
However, despite attempts to discover exactly what makes chocolate so irresistible, its allure remains mysterious. There is speculation that some of the 300 compounds contained in cocoa are responsible for boosting energy and libido. Meanwhile, others assert that the pleasure comes from the overall sensory experience of smell, mouth feel and taste. What most people do agree upon however is that chocolate can promote the brain chemistry of being in love. As author Chris Kilham put it “The human brain is a marvellous and mysterious organ. Tickle the right neurons with delicious chocolate, and all heaven breaks loose.”
Here are eight bliss inducing chemicals that are in or are triggered by eating chocolate:
Caffeine excites the central nervous system, which, in turn, increases heart rate and contracts muscles. It also triggers the release of pleasure-producing chemicals in the brain.
3. Phenethylamine (PEA)
Known as the ‘love drug’ PEA produces a similar effect to the one produced by amphetamines, and is classified as a hallucinogen. It stimulates the release of endorphins and dopamine.
Anandamide’s name derives from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means bliss. This euphoria inducing chemical is closely related to the active ingredient in marijuana, binding to the the same receptors in the human brains.
Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter with a vital role in many aspects of human mental and physical health. Whilst not actually an ingredient of chocolate, eating chocolate boosts natural levels of this chemical. Increased levels of brain serotonin are associated with sexual excitation, desire and responsiveness in both men and women. If you have ever wondered why some women crave chocolate before their period, it may be down to decreased serotonin levels at this time of the monthly cycle.
Chocolate triggers the brain to release endorphins – hormones that cause your pulse to speed up and give you a pleasant high feeling, rather like being in love. Incidentally, if you eat a surfeit of chocolate you might be interested to know that intensive exercise also releases endorphins, meaning that you can maintain the feel good factor whilst burning the calories.
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that is boosted by chocolate consumption. It helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres.The release of the brain’s pleasure chemical dopamine has the effect of making pupils dilate – a sign that has been commonly associated with feelings of love and lust.
The brain releases oxytocin every time you hug someone and every time you eat chocolate, which is surely a wonderful reason to do both at the same time.
Ready to bliss out on chocolate Yet? Try This recipe…
Our Chocolate Lava Cakes recipe is designed with bliss in mind, but also have some unexpected health benefits. Yes – chocolate really can be blissful and healthy 🙂