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Chapter 17 Chocolate Craving:

Biological or Psychological Phenomenon? David Benton

Chocolate is a uniquely attractive substance that has an appeal unmatched by any other food item. Large sections of the population will readily admit to craving chocolate; some will even claim to be addicted (1), although this is lay self-diagnosis rather than an accurate or medically justifiable description. Articles in the media and popular books have speculated that chocolate's appeal can be explained in terms of the influence that it has on the brain's chemistry. For example, Debra Waterhouse, in her book Why Women Need Chocolate (2), stated that

'food cravings are Mother Nature's way of informing us that we need to eat a specific food in order to look and feel great . . . Chocolate can cause a rush of both serotonin and endorphins into your brain cells . . . it has been called the most effective non-drug anti-depressant . . . the ''Prozac of plants".'

Waterhouse claimed that chocolate has a calming influence for two major reasons. First, the sugar in chocolate was said to increase the synthesis of serotonin, the neurotransmitter whose activity is raised by Prozac and other antidepressant drugs. Second, the fat in chocolate was said to release endorphins that induce a sense of well-being. In addition, the phenylethylamine, theobromine and magnesium supplied by chocolate add to the experience.

In reality, any certainty concerning the basis of chocolate's popularity is unjustified; it has been the subject of relatively little scientific attention. The existing evidence is described here and the plausibility of various possible mechanisms considered. A series of biological mechanisms is examined and the relative roles of psychological and physiological mechanisms compared.

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