The findings of a University of Michigan researcher, Dr Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, published in the US journal Current Biology, suggests chocolate has an effect on the brain similar to opium.
The findings are based on experiments with rats. In the study, a natural brain chemical called enkephalin — an endorphin with similar properties to opium — surged as rats began to eat M&M chocolates.
The study also found comparisons between obese people and drug addicts.
“The researchers stimulated the rats’ nestriatum and gave them access to unlimited amounts of M&M’s. They confirmed that this area of the brain is linked to craving; moreover, they found that it was the release of enkephalin that boosted the desire to eat more.”
The scientists concluded: “Opioid circuitry… could in this way participate in normal motivations and perhaps even in generating intense pathological levels of motivation to overconsume reward in binge eating disorders, drug addiction and related compulsive pursuits.”
When a drug was used to stimulate the dorsal neostriatum – the brain area releasing the chemical – the number of M&Ms eaten more than doubled.
In the brain, enkephalin binds to molecular ‘receptors’ sensitive to opiate chemicals to reduce pain and produce pleasurable feelings.
Dr Alexandra DiFeliceantonio said:
“This (study) means that the brain has more extensive systems to make individuals over-consume rewards than previously thought. The same brain area 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.”
From the published study:
These findings reveal that opioid signals in anteromedial dorsal neostriatum are able to code and cause motivation to consume sensory reward.
Another recent chocolate study claims eating chocolate five days a week may make you thinner.
Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, at the University of California, wrote in a letter published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, claiming those who ate chocolate about five times a week had a body mass index one point lower than those who didn’t indulge.
For someone who weighs 120 pounds and is 5 feet tall, one BMI point translates to about 5 pounds, Golomb said in a Bloomberg telephone interview.
The results were based on a survey of a total of 1018 men and women aged 20 to 85 years from San Diego, California, all without known cardiovascular disease.
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