When you feel stressed, if you reach for a chocolate bar, you might unconsciously be medicating yourself with one of the many substances that can be found in this treat. Chocolate has anxiety-busting abilities, but when eaten in excess, it can cause more problems with anxiety than you had to begin with.
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Opiates and Cannibinoids
The next time you feel like indulging in a piece of rich, dark chocolate, ask yourself if you're feeling anxious. Eating chocolate can cause the brain to produce natural opiates -- a chemical well-known for it's anti-anxiety effects -- as any opium den purveyor can inform you. Chocolate also provides N-oleoylethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine -- two cannibinoids that likely enhance anandamide naturally produced by the brain. Since anandamide is similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, increasing its effect can give chocolate eaters a feeling of well-being that might reduce anxiety.
Chocolate is an excellent source of magnesium, a mineral that can help reduce muscle tension, which is a classic sign of anxiety. People who are deficient in magnesium may become agitated or anxious. If you suspect you may be deficient in this mineral, adding chocolate to your diet may help. Each ounce of a 70 percent chocolate bar provides 65 mg of this nutrient. If you eat chocolate on a regular basis, it can easily become a significant source of magnesium in your diet.
Most chocolate contains a significant amount of sugar. When you eat sugar, your body releases insulin, which leads to the release of serotonin. Serotonin is a "feel good" brain chemical that is often targeted by anti-depressants, and a shortage of it is associated with anxiety disorders. When serotonin is released after eating sugar, you may feel calmer. Eating chocolate for this reason is not a good long-term solution for anxiety problems, however, as fluctuating blood sugar levels can contribute to anxiety. Keep in mind that sugar is not always calming, as excess insulin also can lead to more adrenaline being released in the body, which can give you the 'jitters."
Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, a mild stimulant. If you eat more than an average serving of chocolate, you may experience an increase in anxiety symptoms rather than relief. People who are very sensitive to caffeine should avoid eating chocolate altogether. Caffeine, which is a stimulant, can cause an increase in your respiratory rate and heart rate in addition to triggering the release of stress hormones. Keep in mind that products that contain chocolate or cocoa, such as chocolate ice cream, hot chocolate and brownies, also can produce anxiety in caffeine-sensitive individuals.