Brother, what a mouthful (no wonder they just call it PEA). But this is the so-called “love chemical” that chocolate has become famous for since 1983. How can I be so precise about that? Because that was the year a researcher by the name of Michael Liebowitz published his book, The Chemistry of Love. In the course of his promotional tour he claimed that chocolate is “loaded” with PEA, a statement that became the basis for a now-famous New York Times article on the subject.

Since those heady days, however, reality has intruded into Lebowitz’s theory like a parent into a parked car with steamed-over windows. It turns out that while quite a lot of biochemists know what PEA is, none of them know for certain what PEA does. It might — stress might — be a neurotransmitter, which is to say a member of a group of chemicals that neurons in the brain use to communicate with one another (serotonin, which I mentioned yesterday, is another one of these). Beyond that it’s a known stimulant, and that’s really the end of the story. Just try telling that to your average checkout counter magazine editor, though. He or she will likely insist that not only is PEA critical to human relationship-forming, it’s a factor in every stage of mating from initial attraction to orgasm.

Bunk. First, like tryptophan, PEA is a fairly common chemical, especially in fermented foods like chocolate (yes, cacao beans are fermented) pickles, cheese, sauerkraut, vanilla, kimchi, sausages and bacon. I’ll admit that bacon may be the love drug for me personally, but until I see ham hocks being marketed alongside heart-shaped Whitman’s samplers on Valentine’s day, I’ll take the PEA theory with a grain of salt.

Beside that, according to researchers, as soon as you ingest so much as a molecule of PEA, it’s jumped on and broken down by a digestive enzyme called MAO-B. Which means it never even has a chance to get into the bloodstream, much less the brain.

2 thoughts on “Phenylethylamine”

  1. Hi Joe
    Thanks for all the posts re the chemicals found in chocolate – particularly interesting for me as I have a heart condition – SVT – and steer clear of caffeine, chocolate and alcohol ! Yes I know all the good things – but I can say that an occasional glass of champagne does seem to go without incident luckily .
    I have had a few nights in the emergency room over the years and I think only once was it may have been triggered by chocolate – caffeine is certainly the big trigger to avoid.
    For that reason I would agree that the love drug scenario is probably a bit over stated.
    Thanks again for sharing the research 🙂

    1. Hey Heather!

      Thanks for the comment and the kind words. As you already know there’s a big wide world out there and caffeine, chocolate and alcohol are but a few of its pleasures. Carry on, stay healthy and have a ball!

      Your friend,

      – Joe

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