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  (Source: Times of India)
Now we can finally acknowledge we have a cocoa problem

Perhaps it's time to add chocolate alongside alcohol and tobacco to the lists of legal drugs in America.

A new study by University of Michigan neuroscience student Alexandra DiFeliceantonio chronicles how chocolate locks the rodent brain into a cycle of addiction, joy, and despair, much like other drugs.

She found that during consumption of M&Ms rats produced a naturally occurring (endogenous) opioid-receptor binding compound called enkephalin.  The compound binds to similar reward circuitry as notoriously addictive drugs such as a heroine and morphine.  The enkephalin levels primarily spiked in an inner region of the brain called the neostriatum.

Why is this important?  She explains that this region of the brain is linked to addiction in humans, commenting, "The same brain area we tested here is active when obese people see foods and when drug addicts see drug scenes.  It seems likely that our enkephalin findings in rats mean that this neurotransmitter may drive some forms of overconsumption and addiction in people."

Natural genetic variation may lead some people to become more severely addicted to chocolate than others, too, the study indicates.  When dosed with extra enkephalin -- similar to the case of a genetic-based overproduction -- the rodents gobbled down twice as many M&Ms, throwing reserve to the wind.

Rat w/ M&M
Rats show signs of chemical addiction when fed chocolate. [Image Source: Alexandra DiFeliceantonio]

In the human brain, enkephalins have been linked to risky behavior and thoughts of desire.

She writes in the study that the chocolate-triggered compound may be responsible for "generating intense pathological levels of motivation to overconsume."  In other words, maybe that's why you couldn't stop yourself at half your chocolate candy bar or put down that jumbo-sized bag of peanut M&Ms after the suggested serving was consumed.

Chocolate circuitry
Chocolate triggers opioid pathways in the rodent brain. [Image Source: Current Biology]

While some may take news of their chocolate addiction quite badly, Ms. DiFeliceantonio suggests that by better understanding its addictive role on neurochemicals researchers can help people break self-destructive "systems" of overconsumption that exist in the brain.

The new research is published [abstract] in the peer-reviewed journal Current Biology.

Sources: U of M [via Eurekalert], Current Biology

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By Ammohunt on 9/25/2012 1:05:53 AM , Rating: 2
Sure this doesn't just apply to women? I can take or leave chocolate.

RE: Women
By inighthawki on 9/25/2012 1:22:43 AM , Rating: 2
I'm the same way. I think it tastes good, but I actually get quite sick of it quickly, and often even stay away from many chocolate goodies because I don't like them. M&Ms for example aren't *that* good...

RE: Women
By lagomorpha on 9/25/2012 8:12:01 AM , Rating: 2
No, it applies to both but women have worse impulse control.

RE: Women
By FITCamaro on 9/25/2012 8:37:45 AM , Rating: 2

RE: Women
By MZperX on 9/25/2012 12:40:15 PM , Rating: 2
When I read the article title my immediate response was: "No it doesn't." so I was going to post this, but you already did.

I can and frequently do go for months not eating chocolate even though it's right there in the kitchen in a large container (my kids of course love the stuff) simply because I forget about it. I just don't think about eating chocolate or sweets in general. So, chocolate is a "meh" at best. Now hot sauce on the other hand, that's addictive stuff...

RE: Women
By Trisped on 9/26/2012 2:18:17 PM , Rating: 2
The tests were performed on rats, not humans. Also the serving potions were very extreme, the normal human does not eat M&Ms equivalent to the size of their head.

As a once avid chocolate consumer I can say that if it is addicting, it is very subtle. I am more likely to keep eating Lays potato chips then chocolate.

I can also say that it helps you feel a little better when you are depressed, so if you are depressed a lot then you will want to eat more then if you are happy. Of course you get more of the effect if you use dark chocolate and let it melt in your mouth, but who has the patents for that?

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