Let's talk about brain chemicals!
No, seriously -- there's a reason chocolate makes us "feel better" when we're down in the dumps. Have you ever had a day where everything seems to go wrong, and nothing seems to make it better, until suddenly -- blessing of blessings! -- you dip into a bowl of chocolate ice cream or a hot mocha (or a Moody Matcha chocolate bar) and it feels like the entire universe has shifted to lift you up?
Okay, maybe we're being dramatic there, but the point is that chocolate is known for its mood-boosting qualities -- and it's not all in our heads!
(Technically it is, but you know what we mean. We'll get to that in a second.)
Why do I feel down in the dumps?
All right, we've got to get a little technical here, but don't worry -- we'll be back to the chocolate in a sec!
For starters, let's talk about the chemicals in our brains that contribute to our moods. These are called neurotransmitters, and the big 3 that matter to this conversation are serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. (There's also the hormone oxytocin, otherwise known as the "cuddle hormone", which is what gives you the warm fuzzies when you're snuggling with someone.)
- Serotonin is linked to feelings like satisfaction, pride, and self-importance. It's also important for keeping your body on its routine, like sleeping, eating enough, and not punching your Uber driver for looking at you in the back seat instead of looking at the road. (Don't do that.)
- Dopamine is part of your body's natural "reward system". Your brain gets a little boost of dopamine when you do something "right", like completing a task, biting into something that tastes good, or getting your back scratched. It's like your body is giving itself a gold star -- you did it! Here's some happy chemicals!
- Endorphins are your body's reward for working hard. Kind of like dopamine, endorphins are released in response to certain types of stimulation, like sex, laughter, physical activity, and adrenaline. (They're also pretty good for relieving pain, which is why you sometimes don't notice you've skinned your knee after falling off your bike until the adrenaline wears off an hour or two later.)
Psychiatric treatments and holistic medicine alike are designed to "hack" those brain chemicals. If you're just generally feeling down in the dumps, odds are you're lacking serotonin, dopamine, or endorphins. That's why many therapists' first recommendation is to eat better, get more sleep, and get more exercise -- these are linked to the production of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, respectively.
How does chocolate act as a "good mood" food?
Okay, so what do neurotransmitters have to do with chocolate, anyway?
We have to throw one more vocab word at you here: tryptophan. This is an amino acid found in things like dark chocolate, cocoa, turkey, cheese, peanuts, and bananas. (Just to name a few.) Your brain can use tryptophan as a little extra kick in the butt to start producing more serotonin -- so that happy, spaced-out feeling of a food coma is actually your brain doing its thang with all that newfound tryptophan.
The dopamine equivalent is the amino acid tyrosine, which is basically another catalyst for your brain to start smackin' on those "gold star!" stickers. Remember what we said about dopamine being your body's reward for completing a task? Tyrosine is the marker your body needs to know it did a good job -- like smashing through the ribbon at the finish line or scratching a big item off your to-do list. Tyrosine is also responsible for that little rush of "oh, F*CK yes" you get when you take that first big bite of chocolate. The tyrosine tells your brain to release those dopamine stickers, and your brain tells your mouth, "GET US MORE OF THAT ELIXIR OF THE GODS IMMEDIATELY".
It's worth mentioning endorphins here too, although they have less of a chocolate coma effect than dopamine or serotonin. Endorphins are one of the body's natural responses to pain -- they cause a positive feeling in the body (so that your caveman body can ignore the scratches on her arm long enough to Get The Heck Away From That Sabertooth Tiger).
Interestingly, it's the bitterness of chocolate that triggers an endorphin response -- unlike milk chocolate, which is packed with sugar (and often chemical additives), the bitterness of chocolate makes the brain go "yuck" for a split second (before it remembers, "oh yes, I actually love the feeling of chewing on a brick"). That split second aversion triggers -- you guessed it! -- a boost of endorphins to chase off the icky feeling.
Then, the tyrosine hits, and your brain gives you a sticker (we're not going to stop using that metaphor now that we've come up with it), and the further you get into your scrumptious chocolate bar, the more tryptophan your brain gobbles up.
Badabing, badaboom, you're producing dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins!
So you're really saying that chocolate is practically an antidepressant?
Yes and no. Obviously, a bar of chocolate a day is no substitute for mental health treatment (#WeAreNotDoctors). However, the natural ingredients of high-quality chocolate can be directly linked to higher production of the brain chemicals that make us happy.
It's important to note, too, that both quantity and quality come into play. If you eat too much chocolate, you get sick to your stomach (no dopamine gold sticker for you). If you eat really cruddy chocolate packed with chemicals and sugar, once the endorphin rush goes away, you can crash HARD with feelings of "why did I do that" -- while also throwing your whole body out of whack. (Sleep? I don't know her, and serotonin doesn't either.)
Long story short, chocolate can be a major mood-booster, especially if you're investing in top-quality, cocoa-rich chocolate. And it's no surprise that Moodygirl Chocolate can help boost your mood in a gajillion different ways! That's because we add even more to our vitamin-enriched chocolate: magnesium, matcha, and ashwagandha are just a few of the mood-boosting supplements you'll find in our vegan chocolate bars.
And seriously, whose day DOESN'T get better with that first bite of chocolate?!