Chocolate Cravings Linked to Specific Brain Area

By Emily Murray

As Friday afternoon comes around and the work week slows to a crawl many of us may find our minds have begun to wander…did someone say chocolate?

If you find that you get sudden cravings for chocolate, scientists have discovered a certain portion of the brain is to blame. It’s called the striatum and it was previously  categorized by it’s impact on controlling physical movement but now it is being recognized as an area of the brain responsible for making us crave sweet and tasty treats.

This research was conducted by the University of Michigan when researchers learned that this portion of the brain also played into reward areas. This theory was tested on rats when they wanted to see exactly how rewarding something should feel when we get what we have been craving. Essentially the scientists used a man-made version of an endorphin that is known mainly for it’s ability to numb pain and placed it in that area of the brain. Rats that had this happen actually doubled their chocolate intake. In the rats who ate the chocolate (they used M & Ms) their naturally occurring endorphin (called enkephalin) also increased immediately.

Another aspect of measuring the impact of the chocolate on the rats sounds a little bit less scientific but offered valuable insight. The scientists watched the rats faces as they ate the chocolate and they noted what happened when there was more of the synthetic endorphin in their brains. They expected to see them enjoying the chocolate more but they didn’t see these results.

What they could conclude though is that in rats with no appetite, their drive to eat could be restored by infusing these types of  synthetic endorphin into that specific area of their brains.  Of course scientists also note that like all areas of the brain, this one does not act alone. It works in conjunction with other areas of the brain that are sending impulses.

The study also had an interesting parallel to draw. Apparently chocolate can cause the same feeling of euphoria and high that opium does. According to this Daily Mail article, there are now links being drawn between drug addicts and those who are obese when they eat things their bodies crave, like chocolate in this case.