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Owen Wood, Martin O'Malley, Gary Graves, Ruby Buiza
CBC News Online

Sex, drugs and Rocky Road
The Science of Chocolate

t seems the myths surrounding the power of chocolate have been around since the ancient people of America brewed their first cocoa bean confections.

Aztecs and Mayans believed chocolate passed on knowledge and power to those who consumed it.

Don't laugh. The truth about chocolate isn't any less a mystery today. Scientists seem to know as much about how chocolate affects the body as they know about why people fall in love.

ne of the most popular beliefs is that chocolate is an aphrodisiac, sweetening the act of making love.

But there's little scientific evidence to back this up.

Chocolate is made up of about 300 chemicals, many of which are thought to have mood-altering effects – chemicals such as caffeine, theobromine, and phenyethylamine.

Caffeine brings along its usual energy-boosting properties. Theobromine stimulates the heart and the nervous system. Phenyethylamine, an amphetamine-like substance, is said to stimulate the same reaction in the body as the feeling of falling in love.

However, the reality is that none of these chemicals exists in chocolate in any substantial amount. In the case of caffeine, you'd have to eat more than a dozen chocolate bars to get the same amount that's in a single cup of coffee.

Some scientists also say chocolate contains substances that have the same effect on the brain as marijuana. A University of Michigan study says chocolate causes the brain to release b-endorphin, a naturally-occurring chemical similar to opium. The opiates dull pain and increase a feeling of well-being.

Again, you'd have to eat about 25 pounds of chocolate to get "high."

here's no proof that it's addictive either. The fact is many people regularly eat chocolate and don't become addicted.

A University of Pennsylvania study that tested so-called chocoholics found that the cravings may not lie in chemistry at all, but the melt-in-your-mouth texture of chocolate.

The study found that addicts preferred chocolate bars, even white chocolate bars which don't contained any chocolate at all, over capsules of cocoa powder full of chocolate's active ingredients.

Tell this to the people who attend Chocolate Anonymous Association meetings in the U.S.

There's also nothing to back up the belief that chocolate makes people feel better, although it's hard to ignore people who say they become more pleasant or feel less tense after eating it.

Scientists say the effect of chocolate on mood is likely psychological. Chocolate tastes good so we feel good.

hen there's those who say chocolate cures fevers and can be used as a remedy for other health problems.

This seems a little more plausible. After all, chocolate contains a wide-range of vitamins and minerals that the body needs, including potassium, sodium, iron, fluorine and vitamins A, B1, C, D, and E.

In fact, researchers at Harvard University go as far as to say chocolate may help people live longer. The study, which tracked about 8,000 men with an average age of 65 years, found those who ate chocolate and candy lived almost a year longer than those who didn't.

Although the researchers don't know why chocolate seems to extend life, they think it has something to do with the fact that chocolate contains antioxidants. Antioxidants are believed to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol that causes clogged arteries and leads to heart disease.

However, health experts say the benefits of chocolate should be taken with a grain of salt. Some allege studies that say chocolate prevents health problems such as cardiac arrest are funded in part by chocolate manufacturers that want to sweeten chocolate's soured image.

Chocolate may or may not be good for humans but one thing is for sure, it's definitely not good for animals.

About two ounces of milk chocolate can be poisonous to a 10-pound dog and more than that can be lethal. The stimulation of the cardiac and nervous systems caused by chocolate is too much for dogs can handle. The same goes for cats and other pets.