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UA researchers study complex mood effects of chocolate

By Irene Hsiao
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 15, 1999
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Dieters have a new excuse. The same drive that pushes marijuana users to smoke a joint pushes millions of chocolate enthusiasts to chomp on a candy bar.

Chocolate addiction is real, according to UA researchers looking at how food may affect human behavior.

"We feel it's a real craving - we can't dismiss that they're really people who have a drive for it - it's a true drive," said Douglas Taren, associate professor of public health at the Arizona Prevention Center.

He said chocolate is a very complex food with ingredients that can have an effect on mood. Taren said chocolate lovers don't feel depressed after they chomp on cacao bean extract.

"It makes them feel happier," he said. "Some people say it feels like falling in love."

Taren and former UA researcher Kristen Bruinsma studied how the confection relates to people's feelings by reviewing literature on chocolate and mood from the last 20 years.

Taren and Bruinsma reviewed the materials for several months last year.

Their results were published in the Journal of American Dietetic Association last month.

Bruinsma left the UA in May and is now a clinical research associate for Cooke Pharma, a California research company.

The chocolate urge is comparable to dependency on caffeine, alcohol and other drugs.

"It's similar to alcohol or drugs - they go out of their way to get it," she said. "There are very specific cravings for it that no other food or drink can suffice."

The need for it is insatiable until the addict gets some in his or her system, Taren said.

"It takes away the urge to have it," he said. "Once you have it, the drive to get it goes away."

He said a fatty acid in marijuana is similar to a fatty acid in chocolate.

But Bruinsma said chocoholism is unlike alcohol addiction because the person doesn't need large amounts everyday.

"It's just uncontrollable," she said.

Taren also said users of the euphoric ecstasy tend to want chocolate when they are coming off the drug.

"Probably because some of the substances in chocolate may affect the same neurotransmitters (substances in drugs)," he said.

Bruinsma said it is a classic addiction of physical dependence and compulsion.

Studies have found women tend to crave chocolate more because of the hormonal fluctuations involved with menstrual cycles.

Taren said that in nutrition counseling, knowing about chocolate addiction can help nutritionists understand their patients. These findings can be used to help someone lose weight, gain weight or lower their cholesterol.

"We have to understand that the person is a chocoholic," he said.

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