Why does chocolate make us happy?

There are some interesting chemical reactions that spark our love of chocolate.

13th April 2017
Why does chocolate make us happy? (iStock)

The Easter weekend is upon us and shops are stocked with chocolaty treats for kids and adults alike, but can the sweet stuff really make us happy? We investigate the key pleasure-inducing compounds in the humble Easter egg.

Tryptophan

This amino acid is found in small quantities in chocolate and is used by the brain to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter that can produce feelings of happiness.

Phenylethylalanine

  • Promotes feelings of attraction, excitement and nervousness and is associated with the initial euphoria of falling in love. It has also been isolated in chocolate.
  • This chemical also acts as an anti-depressant by combining with dopamine that is naturally present in the brain.

Theobromine

  • A weak stimulant that works alongside caffeine to produce the characteristic ‘high’ that many people experience after getting their chocolate fix.
  • Scientists at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego suggest that chocolate contains substances that produce a cannabis-like effect on the brain.
  • But don’t get too excited - you would have to ingest more than 25 pounds of chocolate in one sitting to get ‘high’ in the same way.

Another reason to be pleased

Scientists have confirmed that dark chocolate is beneficial for our health. The greater cocoa content provides high concentrations of antioxidants called flavonoids, which reportedly prevent cancers, protect blood vessels, promote cardiac health, and counteract high blood pressure.
 

 


Follow Science Focus on Twitter, Facebook and Google+