The Science Behind St. Valentine's Day

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box of chocolates
Image: Sean MacEntee via Flickr

Nothing says St. Valentine’s Day more then scrumptious little tender melt in your mouth morsels of dark chocolate. Dr. Bankole A. Johnson, at the University of Texas states, “chocolate's ingredients have a significant impact on brain chemistry.” He has found that chocolate contains caffeine and two substances, tyramine and tryptophan, that the brain converts into the feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin. "It stimulates the brain's pleasure centers," Dr. Johnson says.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter of happiness. Most antidepressants work by keeping the levels of serotonin high in the brain. Therefore, as you might already know, each little bite of chocolate is literally a little piece of happiness.

The other dance partner of delight is dopamine. This is a the neurotransmitter of pleasure and it’s increase is associated with sexual arousal. In a study by Dr. Jennifer Nasser, associate professor of Nutrition Sciences in Drexel University's College of Nursing and Health, Dr. Nasser found that placing a small piece of chocolate brownie in a participant’s mouth caused a spike in dopamine. Dopamine is believed to teach the brain what is pleasurable. In other words, when someone gives you a box of chocolates, each time you pop one in your mouth, you could be telling your brain to associate the happiness and pleasure you feel with the person who gave you the luscious little treat.


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