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Chocolate TherapyAhhh… chocolate. The feel good food. The divine bounty of royals. The ambrosia of love and romance. The real eighth wonder of the world.

It’s quite a process, but the chocolate that we know and love is derived from the fruit of the cacao tree. The Latin name, Theobroma cacao, translates to “food of the gods”. For centuries, the cacao beans (seeds) were so highly valued in some societies that they were actually used as currency.

Chocolate has a very mystical allure that has been well documented, dating back to the Mayans and Aztecs. These ancient cultures held a strong belief that the strange looking cacao beans were magical and possessed spiritual properties. The seeds were used as offerings in sacred rituals surrounding royal and religious events, and priests would serve chocolate drinks during the ceremonies. The Mayans very well may have gotten so caught up in these chocolate parties that they forgot to finish drawing their calendars.

According to data released by anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania, chocolate has been around for more than three thousand years, dating as far back as 1400 BC. These scientists are reported to have found cacao residue on pottery excavated in Honduras. They believe the pulp of the cacao fruit, which is the sweet part that surrounds the seeds, was fermented to make some sort of alcoholic beverage. I’m just guessing, but that may be what inspired today’s version of chocolate beer. If you’re the adventurous beer drinker type, this could be just the therapy for what ales you.

The original chocolate products were mainly of the bitter drink variety, thank goodness the discriminating palates of the Europeans prompted them to add sweetener and a little milk. Bless you. Today, chocolate is not only one of my favorite e.m.PD therapies, it is also one of the most popular foods and flavors in the world, with the good citizens of Europe and North America leading the pack in chocolate consumption. Some reports indicate that the average American consumes up to twelve pounds of chocolate every year, and the Swiss top that with up to an amazing twenty-two pounds each year. I know what you’re thinking – you’re thinking there’s no way you have eaten anywhere near that much chocolate… I ate yours.

Chocolate has long been the subject of much research and debate. Lately, the reports from all of this chocolate conversation have been favorable. We are hearing that in addition to chocolate’s nutritive value, it has medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities as well. While the researchers readily admit they don’t quite understand how it all works, they continue to be fascinated with discovering how chocolate consumption affects our health. For instance, it is generally agreed that chocolate contains over three hundred different chemicals. Two that have been specifically identified are caffeine and theobromine, which produce a synergistic stimulant effect to lift your spirits and your attitude. Phenylethylamine, a step-cousin of amphetamines, is another stimulant found in chocolate, and is linked to a sense of euphoria comparable to feelings of being in love – also known as a state of bliss. These stimulants work on the “give a damn” sections of our brain that control our ability to pay attention and stay alert. They may also help control inappropriate responses to forced social interactions that occur during the early morning hours, when our social centers are still in snooze mode.

Unless you live under a rock in Bikini Bottom, you have probably heard that antioxidants are good for you. Flavanols are a type of antioxidant found in cocoa (cacao) beans. These dark chocolate flavanols can improve your overall cardiovascular health, and may help control your blood pressure. This is especially important when you’re diligently working your way through a bout of e.m.PD and somebody wants to discuss your feelings. Researchers wonder if there is an indirect effect on brain health due to the increased blood flow to brain cells. The question is – does a brain treated to a delicious dose of chocolate work better than a plain brain? The answer is yes, yes it does. Although I am intrigued by the research, I am not too concerned about the results. I know for a fact that chocolate makes me feel good, and ultimately, that’s a good thing for the people who have to be around me.

Personally, I like to keep a small stash of chocolates on hand in a variety of flavors and forms – for emergencies. In a matter of minutes I can whip up a steaming cup of hot cocoa, or stir up an ice-cold glass of chocolate milk. In a matter of seconds I can visit my “chocolate vault” and select a delectable, relationship-saving morsel. This, I gladly do for the good of humanity. OK, it’s really for me, the humanity thing is an appreciable side effect.

Chocolate is extremely versatile when used as an e.m.PD therapy. You can eat it, you can drink it, and you can even combine it with other therapies such as Coffee Therapy and Avoidance Therapy. For many non-coffee drinkers, chocolate is the go-to alternative, and may soon replace coffee as second only to Avoidance Therapy.

As far as reports concerning other medicinal qualities of chocolate are concerned, I have a friend who swears M&Ms are like an anti-depressant in a candy coated shell. And, if you decide to scarf down a handful it doesn’t trigger frantic calls to 9-1-1.

Still, there’s a lot of ongoing research regarding the actual therapeutic effects of chocolate. This is a special note to the chocolate researchers – I’m available. Call me: 866-CHOCO – umm, maybe an Owl Gram would be better.

For more info on the history of chocolate, and links to research data, please refer to articles posted by Kat Morgenstern, Amanda Bensen, Maria Godoy, and the fine folks over at the Exploratorium. Enjoy the reading and enjoy your Chocolate Therapy!

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