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Why Chocolate Does a Body Good

Why Chocolate Does a Body Good

Vicki Santillano | DivineCaroline

May 25, 2010


Though science hasn’t directly proven that eating chocolate lifts people’s mood, who isn’t a little happier after a square or two of sugary, creamy decadence? Chocolate contains well over three hundred chemicals, many of which affect happiness. It’s got phenylethylamine, a chemical the brain releases when we fall in love that makes us more alert and content. The tryptophan in chocolate prompts serotonin production and sends us into relaxation mode. As if these weren’t enough, eating chocolate also tickles our taste buds into triggering an endorphin release. It’s their way of telling the brain, “She’s eating something yummy; reward her!” Some in the scientific community feel that chocolate’s chemical combination is still too mild to bring about significant mood elevation. But if it really doesn’t make a difference, why do we crave it in times of stress and sadness—or at all?


It’s said that laughter is the best medicine, but is that really true in terms of physical health? Researchers at Loma Linda University sought to find the answer by testing the blood of participants asked to either watch a comedic movie of their choice or watch nothing. The funny-movie viewers had higher endorphin levels in their bloodstreams than those who didn’t watch anything, both before, during, and after the movie, meaning that even anticipating laughing could signal an endorphin release. However, because the researchers couldn’t test the endorphins in the brain (where emotions are regulated), there’s no true way of knowing whether that actually enhanced the subjects’ moods. But, as with chocolate, most people feel better after a few belly laughs—you don’t need science to tell you that.

As we saw with the runner’s-high study, constantly improving technology might help us reach a more definitive conclusion about what affects endorphin levels in the brain. But getting bogged down in the science of endorphins can be, well, a downer. Here’s what we do know: exercising, being in love, getting hugged, eating chocolate, and laughing are instant mood lifters. And just about anyone can do at least one of these things at any given moment. The next time you’re in a funk, try watching something funny, taking a long walk, or eating a little chocolate. Science is still working to prove that these things have a physical effect on our moods, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do informal studies of our own. Now that’s my kind of research.

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