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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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