Constant cravings

August 29, 1997

Chocolate and herbal extracts fail aphrodisiac test

"CHOCOLOGISTS" Susan Pringle and Peter Barham of Bristol University were dismayed to find themselves the centre of unwanted media attention earlier this month, when casual comments they had made some time ago suddenly resurfaced in several newspapers, writes Cath Cotton.

Reports claimed the researchers, both physical scientists, had discovered substances in chocolate that could account for Casanova's famous libido.

"Why a hot chocolate is good at bedtime," proclaimed the Daily Mail. "Cocoa kept Casanova awake all night," declared the Daily Telegraph.

The reports failed to note that the chocolate/Casanova link had only emerged in a casual comment during a radio interview two years ago when the researchers were talking about a new adult education module on "chocology", examining the properties of chocolate. The story, such as it was, had been recycled by a local reporter.

"The comments were from an interview two years ago. The research was not our own, and there is no story," Dr Barham said.

Further investigation reveals that the newspaper reports were not only inaccurate, but overlooked a host of other stories on research into the effects of chocolate.

Over the past two years, research has revealed that chocolate can improve the retention of copper, an essential nutrient, in the human body.

It has also been shown to reduce recovery time if eaten beforeexercise, and it can increase the rate at which alcohol is broken down in the body.

Leeds University's school of medicine found that chocolate accounted for 49 per cent of food cravings, when analysing theeating habits of 25 healthy women.

However, more than 16 per cent of migraine sufferers at the Princess Margaret Migraine Clinic at Charing Cross Hospital reported headaches caused by chocolate.

Most recently, researchers at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California, have reported that chocolate appears to contain a group of chemicals that are similar to cannabinoids, the psychoactive compounds found in marijuana.

Scientists have suggested the chemicals may play a role in chocolate craving, and othersubjective feelings associated witheating chocolate. Cannabinoid drugs are known to heighten sensitivity and induce euphoria.

One possible effect of the chemicals could be to intensify the sensory properties of chocolate thought to trigger cravings.

Alternatively, they could interact with other components of chocolate, such as caffeine, to produce a transient feeling of wellbeing.

However, chocolate-lovers should beware. At high doses, andandamide, one of the three new chemicals found in chocolate, can have unpleasant side-effects.

Research using rats has shown that like other cannabinoids, it can impair memory, and may increase the chance of late or still-births.

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