This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.
2002 Second Paper
"In most parts of the world chocolate is associated with romance, and not without with good reason. It was viewed as an aphrodisiac by the Aztec's who thought it invigorated men and made women less inhibited. So when it was first introduced to Europe, it was only natural that chocolate quickly became the ideal gift for a woman to receive from an admirer or a loved one, and of course, vice versa" (3).
What does chocolate have in common with lobster, crab legs, pine nuts, walnuts, alcohol, and Viagra? It has a reputation as being an aphrodisiac. Throughout history, there has been a pursuit for sexual success and fertility by various means including foods and pharmaceuticals. The American Heritage College Dictionary defines aphrodisiac s "arousing or intensifying sexual desire...Something such as a drug or food, having such an effect" (5). According to the Food and Drug Administration, "an aphrodisiac is a food, drink, drug, scent, or device that, promoters claim, can arouse or increase sexual desire, or libido" (2). Myths and folklore have existed since the beginning of time asserting that specific goods, or aphrodisiacs, increase sexual capacity and stimulate desire. Named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexual love and beauty, she was claimed born from the sea and many types of seafood have acquired this reputation. Similarly, chocolate's reputation as an aphrodisiac originated in both Mayan and Aztec cultures over 1500 years ago. Is chocolate really an aphrodisiac? How does it work? Does it produce different effects for men and women?
Made from the cocoa bean found in pods growing form the trunk and lower branches of the Cacao Tree, the earliest record of chocolate was in the South American rainforests around the Amazon and Essequibo rivers. The Mayan civilization worshipped the Cacao Tree for they believed it was divine in origin, thus its Latin name, Theobrom Cacao, means "food of the gods", and "cacao is a Mayan word meaning 'God Food.' Cacao was later corrupted into the more familiar "Cocoa" by Europeans" (3). Since emperors were considered divine, the Aztec emperor Monteczuma drank fifty golden goblets of chocolate a day in order to enhance his sexual ability. Consequentially, when the Spanish Conquistadors discovered chocolate and introduced it to Europe and the rest of the world, it continued to be associated with love (3).
Chocolate is a very complex food and scientists have investigated it in order to unlock its secrets. When consumed, it has been observed to have affects on human behavior (3). Chocolate contains two particular substances called Phenylethylamin and Seratonin, both of which serve as means for mood lifting. "Both occur naturally in the human brain and are released by the brain into the nervous system when we are happy and also when we are experiencing feelings of love, passion and/or (dare I say it?) lust. This causes a rapid mood change, a rise in blood pressure, increasing the heart rate and inducing those feelings of well being, bordering on euphoria usually associated with being in love" (3).
When chocolate is consumed, it releases Phenylethylamine and Seratonin into the human system producing the same arousing effects. Since eating chocolate gives an instant energy boost, increasing stamina, it is no wonder why its effects have given it a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Both Phenylethylamine and Seratonin are substances that can be mildly addictive, hence explaining the chocoholic. But women are more susceptible to the effects of Phenylethylamine and Seratonin than men (3). This illustrates why women tend to be chocoholics more than men.
Three other chemicals and theories are used to explain why chocolate makes people feel "good." "Researchers at the Neuroscience Institute in San Diego, California believe that 'chocolate contains pharmacologically active substances that have the same effect on the brain as marijuana, and that these chemicals may be responsible for certain drug-induced psychoses associated with chocolate craving'" (4). Although marijuana's active ingredient that allows a person to feel "high" is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a different chemical neurotransmitter produced naturally in the brain called anandaminde has been isolated in chocolate. "Because the amounts of anandamide found in chocolate is so minuscule, eating chocolate will not get a person high, but rather that there are compounds in chocolate that may be associated with the good feeling that chocolate consumption provides" (4).
In the body, anandamide is broken down rapidly into two inactive sections after produced by the enzyme hydrolase found in our bodies. In chocolate, however, there are other chemicals that may inhibit this natural breakdown of anandamide. Therefore, natural anandamide may remain extensively, making people feel good longer when they eat chocolate (4).
Although chocolate contains chemicals associated with feelings of happiness, love, passion, lust, endurance, stamina, and mood lifting, scientists continue to debate whether it should be classified as an aphrodisiac. "'The mind is the most potent aphrodisiac there is,' says John Renner, founder of the Consumer Health Information Research Institute (CHIRI). 'It's very difficult to evaluate something someone is taking because if you tell them it's an aphrodisiac, the hope of a certain response might actually lead to an additional sexual reaction'" (2). Despite scientific difficulty in proving chocolate an aphrodisiac, it does contain substances that increase energy, stamina, and feelings of well being. The reality is that chocolate makes you feel good and induces feelings of being in love. Everyone appreciates receiving a gift of chocolate from a loved one because it makes you feel loved. Perhaps the historic euphemism associated with chocolate is what really provokes people to feel it is an aphrodisiac.
1)Johan's Guide to Aphrodisiacs
2)Looking for a libido lift? The facts about aphrodisiacs, Food & Drug Association
3)Is chocolate an aphrodisiac?, By Janet Vine
4)Chocolate, aphrodisiac or prevention against heart attacks
5)The American Heritage College Dictionary. 3rd Edition. USA: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1993.
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