Phenylethylamine (PEA) is an alkaloid, which is a naturally occurring chemical compound, and a monoamine, which is a neurotransmitter found in the brain. Neurotransmitters help send and receive signals in the brain. Phenylethylamine helps produce hormones that create positive feelings. Phenylethylamine is created by a reaction in foods through microbial fermentation, or by foods breaking down or spoiling. Phenylethylamine is most commonly found naturally in chocolate.
Chocolate was considered the food of the gods during the time of the Aztecs (c. 1500) and was widely used in Europe and Asia. Not only did it have a bitter, rich flavor, it also produced good feelings. Cocoa beans contain phenylethylamine and are found to have many health benefits, such as alleviating fever and bad breath. Three main discoveries were found with the use of cocoa or chocolate: assisting in weight gain, helping to stimulate the nervous system and aiding good digestion.
Phenylethylamine affects mood by changing the chemical makeup of the brain and inducing a “high” feeling resembling that of love and passion. Phenylethylamine changes levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This affects several areas of the brain and the hormones released. These hormones help elevate mood, balance blood pressure and increase heart rate. This effect led to labeling cocoa as an aphrodisiac, or a substance that improves sexual drive.
Phenylethylamine and Chocolate
In the 1980’s phenylethylamine became popular due to research by Michael Liebowitz that claimed chocolate was loaded with phenylethylamine. This caused a media sensation and started the “chocolate theory of love” by creating a buzz around the idea of chocolate and phenylethylamine.
It has been discovered that phenylethylamine is metabolized quickly before reaching the brain through the enzyme MAO-B, which is a protein that assists with metabolism. This prevents phenylethylamine from actually reaching the brain to produce the euphoric results claimed.
Substitute phenylethylamine, or phenylethylamine created from a chemical reaction, has many uses in pharmacology, including as a stimulant and antidepressant. Since the 1950’s substitute phenylethylamine has been used to assist with the creation of many drugs that increase brain production of phenylethylamine.
Eating chocolate will not produce a high or increase sexual drive, but it does have many health benefits such as being an antioxidant. Phenylethylamine can be prescribed by a doctor for medical use.