Kakaw (Mayan hieroglyph)
|Cacao pod, food of the gods; from Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen.|
|Theobroma cacao L.; from Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen.|
Chocolate soon developed a reputation as an aphrodisiac, which continues to this day even though conclusive evidence is lacking. Cacao contains theobromine and caffeine; both are stimulants capable of enhancing attraction and arousal. The actual culprit, if there is one, may be the alkaloid phenylethylamine, a mammalian neurotransmitter. Levels increase when Cupid strikes, along with fight-or-flight hormones, and they drop precipitously with rejection. Phenylethylamine also is found in chocolate -- the basis for the “Chocolate Theory of Love”. Might chocolate help with the pitfalls of love? Unfortunately, it appears that phenylethylamine is quickly metabolized and little if any reaches the brain.
|Phenylethylamine, a seemingly-simple but mischievously-useful drug (vintage card).|
Chocolate can be dangerous if frequently consumed in large quantities, as theobromine is a heart stimulant, even stronger than caffeine. Not every creature can eat chocolate. Dogs are among the animals that process theobromine so slowly that it is dangerous even in smaller amounts. However, it isn’t quite as bad as I once thought. Toxic amounts are on the order of 50 g for small and 400 g for average-sized dogs, which explains why Cleo didn’t die after eating the freshly-baked chocolate cake off the kitchen table. But of course, dogs don’t need chocolate like we do, so there’s no reason to share.