Cocoa and chocolate, in addition to strong antioxidant polyphenols, contain substances capable to influence on human behavior of .Some of them are able to create a slight addiction with a chocolate cravings, especially in depressed individuals who after taking it feel a sort of satisfaction.The craving desire to eat cocoa-based products is explained as “craving effect“. The craving is the impulsive/compulsive desire for a psychoactive substance, for food or for any other purpose-rewarding behavior. This impulsive desire maintains the behavior and the compulsion to take advantage of the object of desire. Research has identified chemicals, more commonly known as neurotransmitters (serotonin, endorphin, anandamide, phenylethylamine), that can significantly affect the mood, which is associated with an effective anti-stress action.
The biogenic amines are basic products that are derived from the microbial decarboxylation operated on some amino acids which represent vasopressin molecules .This molecules if they are introduced in sufficient quantity, or simultaneously with other drugs that inhibit catabolic enzymes (MAOIS) can cause facial flushing, headaches, hypotensive shock, or even death caused by circulatory shock.Fortunately, in cocoa these amines do not reach high levels that can be dangerous. However, these amines are present in all fermented foods including chocolate, which contains mainly 2-phenylethylamine (by decarboxylation of phenylalanine), followed by tyramine (from tyrosine) and tryptamine (tryptophan).
The phenylethylamine, found in discrete quantities, is a molecule that has a chemical structure similar to amphetamine, which shares some neuropharmacological effects:frame to tie to the same receptors; can mimic the effects of dopamine and norepinephrine, promoting wakefulness and delaying the onset of fatigue .It’s just the 2-phenylethylamine that provoke the urge to chocolate “effect craving”. Thanks to the effects mentioned earlier, this substance is considered a “natural antidepressant”. Purine alkaloids, or methylxanthines are characteristic of all foods that, like cocoa, tea, coffee, etc., are referred to as “nerve food”. In cocoa caffeine is present in quantities ranging from 0.6 to 0.8%, but the predominant alkaloid is theobromine: its concentration in cotyledons is from 2 to 2.7%. These substances stimulate the central nervous system (hence the adjective “nervine”) and increase concentration and wakefulness; theobromine is a coronary vasodilator and kidney, with a marked diuretic action compared to caffeine.
During the fermentation of cocoa beans, theobromine that is compartmentalised in cotyledon cells-migrates in seed husk; in fact, represents one of the extraction and recovery of peel: extracted with organic solvents, is purified and sold as medication (anti-asthmatic).The theobromine and caffeine (methylxanthines) have the prerogative to raise the level of attention of the brain, enhance concentration and dismiss the sensation of fatigue.
In cocoa there are also modest concentrations of Tetrahydroisoquinoline (THQ ). These substances are very important because they are responsible for the “antidepressants” mechanisms that chocolate make in humans.
Cocoa and chocolate contain two THQ, salsolinol and salsolin, dopamine-derived alkaloids that are formed naturally in the human brain. THQ are presenting different dopamine compounds pharmacological effects, which eventually materialize in an antidepressant effect:
inhibition of MAO
Inhibition of tyrosine hydroxylase and uptake of Catecholamines
Inhibition of cyclic AMP formation and release of B-endorphins
As the last interesting cocoa substance, capable of acting on the mood, we find the Anandamide. This is an endogenous lipid that can bind the CB1 cannabinoid receptor, thus able to generate behavioral effects, effects on mood and cognitive functions like learning and memory.