Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chocolate madness, chocolate sadness

Well, folks, here's another installment for the law of unintended consequences, or the life's not as simple as you wish it were logbook. For years, the chocolate industry has been sponsoring research that showed that cocoa butter was good for your circulating lipid levels, and hence good for your heart. The Miracle Elixir, chocolate has even been shown to prevent cavities. Great news for those with chocolate madness, restaurants serving double or triple chocolate cakes, and great news for those looking for warm, loving Valentine's day gifts! Eat up, slim down, live longer, and love.

Unfortunately, there's a spoil-sport in every crowd. A BBC story throws a wet blanket on chocolate mania. It appears that rather than cheering you up, chocolate is a real downer. Maybe (hopefully) that's why your Valentine burst into tears and said s/he didn't really want to be your Valentine after sampling from the Lady Godivas you gave er.

It may be less than a shock to learn that the vast Cocoa-conspiracy of Hershey-funded researchers didn't happen to report this side of things. But they may not have bothered to look at what, for the researcher and his/her grant prospects, would be too saddening. Now, of course, the discoverers of this new effect say -- surprise! -- that more research is needed, so we can find out whether chocolate causes depression, or chocolate eaters are already self-medicating when the epidemiologists show up!

What is the reason for this? It's the way science works and is rewarded (not with chocolates!). It's the scientific method, that 'tunnels' through complex traits by intentionally keeping as many constant as possible so the effects of one only is studied. See our earlier posts on 'tunneling' and the philosophy of science. The problem is that when we do this, we intentionally ignore the other factors that also are at play in the real world. We know this, but we run to the BBC or NYTimes with our findings anyway.

It's sad enough that the pharmaceutical industry is trying hard to get all of us on lifetime maintenance medication: tranquilizers, neurotransmitter (IQ) boosters, statins (lower cholesterol), and who knows what else. So we see lots of advertising to push this. It's great for business. But the chocolate industry has itself been trying to push its products essentially as maintenance medication (eat a lot of it, every day, your whole life long, to prevent depression and heart disease). Pretty disgusting (the idea, if not the chocolate).

Please pass the cherry pie!


Holly Dunsworth said...

Well there has to be something to something here... I mean, I'm still holding a tiny grudge against my freshman year dorm-mate for eating my last Thin Mints. And it was around final exam week so I was pretty stressed. And no matter how many Thin Mints I eat every year when the Girl Scout's come around, it will never make up for those 5 or 6 that I didn't get to eat back in 1995. Chocolate's a powerful thing!

Ken Weiss said...

It's a real downer, I know! So I, like most guys, am not very good at remembering important days.

That may make me seem (or feel) inconsiderate, but now when I'm asked why no chocolate -- "don't you love me anymore?" -- I can smile (lovingly) and say "no, just the opposite. I don't want to make you sad on this special day!"

I must confess that such explanations don't get me very far....

Anne Buchanan said...

A powerful thing indeed, Holly. No doubt. But so much for the theory of chocolate as self-medication. If it were, you would have cured the Thin Mint grudge long ago. We need another theory. Chocolate -- the equivalent of gold? Chocolate -- better than gold?

And Ken, fortunately (for both of us), we never suffer from lack of chocolate.

Ken Weiss said...

And the only time it makes you sad is when you bought some that you thought would be Gourmet good, but it was of inferior quality

Anne Buchanan said...

True. Then I hold a grudge.