Friday, October 12, 2007

I am not addicted to chocolate--my stomach is!

A headline in the Washington Post reads Scientists Explain Chocolate Cravings. I'm thinking, "Those silly scientists! There are diseases to cure and global warming to solve and they're studying chocolate cravings! Hmmm--that makes me hungry. I think I'll have a Snickers bar..." Snore. Seriously, I thought this would be some boring piece about the chemical phenylethylamine (PEA) that chocolate contains, the effect of which mimics the feeling of being in love.

But no, this was something completely different. It turns out that there is a type of bacteria living in the stomach that craves chocolate. Really--that whole bag of M&M's that you scarfed while watching Grey's last night was not your fault! Apparently the study was delayed because it took so long to find 11 men who didn't eat chocolate. According to the article:

"The researchers examined the byproducts of metabolism in their blood and urine and found that a dozen substances were significantly different between the two groups. For example, the amino acid glycine was higher in chocolate lovers, while taurine (an active ingredient in energy drinks) was higher in people who didn't eat chocolate. Also chocolate lovers had lower levels of the bad cholesterol, LDL."
Lower levels of bad cholesterol? I knew my chocolate habit was good for me!

The story continued:
"The levels of several of the specific substances that were different in the two groups are known to be linked to different types of bacteria, Kochhar said. Still to be determined is if the bacteria cause the craving, or if early in life people's diets changed the bacteria, which then reinforced food choices."
The presence of bacteria in the digestive system isn't really news--although it's getting a lot of marketing from various yogurt culture type products touting the benefits of "good bacteria." What's even more interesting is the amount of bacteria on and throughout the human body. Some estimate that only one in ten cells in the human body is actually--well, human. It appears that our vaunted status as top of the food chain sentient evolved beings is just a myth. We are actually just hosts to billions of microbes. Makes you rethink the anti-bacterial hand gel, huh?

Excuse me--the microbes are calling. Must eat chocolate...

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