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Chocolate and Craving

There May Be a Relation with Alcohol

For years people have claimed to be addicted to chocolate and now there is new scientific evidence that reveals some addictive qualities in the tasty treat. The same alkaloid compounds found in alcohol are also present in chocolate, researchers say.

This could also explain why many recovering alcoholics use chocolate to curb their craving for alcohol, especially in early sobriety. The book Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book) recommends using chocolate to satisfy cravings.

Researchers at the Spanish Council for Scientific Research in Madrid, Spain are the first to find that ordinary cocoa and chocolate bars contain a group of alkaloids known as tetrahydro-beta-carbolines, according to Tomas Herraiz, in a press release.

In previous research, the same chemicals were linked to alcoholism, he said. The family of compounds, which are also known as neuroactive alkaloids, continues to be investigated for possible influences on mood and behavior.

Like Marijuana?

In an earlier study, Italian scientists identified a pleasure-inducing compound called anandamide, as well as other substances believed to mimic the effects of marijuana. Although the Italian study concluded that stomach acids break down these substances before they enter the bloodstream, researchers at the University of California at Irvine disputed that finding.

Another review published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association confirmed that chocolate can be addicting. "Chocolate may be used as a form of self-medication for dietary deficiencies," according to former About Nutrition Guide Rick Hall.

In the Spanish study, Herraiz said the same chemicals discovered in chocolate are found in wine, beer and liquor, though no connection has been established between compulsive drinking and food addiction. The combination of the alkaloid compounds and other chemicals in chocolate could explain chocolate cravings, he said.

"Finding these active substances, combined with the known pleasurable effects of eating chocolate, may complete the whole picture of chocolate craving," Herraiz said.

"Other active substances in chocolate, like caffeine and magnesium, are often suggested as potential contributors to craving," Herraiz said. "Now we can enlarge this list to include these compounds."

Higher levels of the compounds seem to correlate with the amount of cocoa in a sample, he reported. The darker the chocolate, the more of the compounds it contains, the news release said.

Women More Affected

Women seem to be more prone to chocolate cravings than men. The Diabetes Association report found that only 15 percent of males appear to crave chocolate, as much as 40 percent of women do - and 75 percent of them claim that absolutely nothing other than chocolate can satisfy their appetite.

Because chocolate cravings may be influenced by a deficiency in magnesium, that this may be why some experience an increase in chocolate cravings during PMS.

For most people craving chocolate is in no way harmful, but if it rises to the level of "binge eating" it can be a real problem. Chocolate is the food most desired by women who binge eat, because of a brain chemical that gives them physical pleasure from the sweet indulgence, says University of Michigan nutritionist Adam Drewnowski.

Drewnowski's research found that Naloxone can reduce craving in binge eaters, but Naloxone is available only intravenously, which makes it impractical for chronic bingers. Drewnowski is searching for an easier-to-take drug.

Herraiz's finding was reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a monthly peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society.

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