The review published in the Neuroscience Bulletin by Borah et al. at the Assam University in India said that Beta-phenethylamine (Beta-PEA), a naturally occurring component found in cocoa beans and its by products, may be a cause of Parkinson's Disease.
Phenylethylamine is a natural alkaloid, a chemical related to amphetamines, which functions as a neuromodulator or neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. In addition to its presence in all mammals, phenethylamine is found in many other organisms and foods, such as chocolate, especially after microbial fermentation. It is also found in wine and cheese. But the highest trace amounts have been reported in chocolate.
It is sold as a dietary supplement for purported mood and weight loss-related therapeutic benefits; however, orally ingested phenethylamine is claimed to be inactive because of extensive presystemic metabolism whereby its concentration is greatly reduced before it reaches the systemic circulation. This typically prevents significant concentrations from reaching the brain.
However, an earlier study by Sengupta et al. found that synthetic Beta-PEA at doses of 0.63 and 1.25 mg/day could cause Parkinson's symptoms meaning it is bypassing presystemic metabolism and trace concentrations are indeed reaching the brain. Chocolate contains averages between these levels.
The problem is not related to natural sources of
Beta-PEA, but synthetic and enriched varieties claim the researchers. "As consumption of some Beta-PEA-enriched food items has become an addiction in modern life, our proposed mechanism is of enormous significance and impact," they stated..
They added: "Limited consumption of these foods is recommended."
Levels In Chocolate and GMO
It is again important to note that the problem associated with Beta-PEA has been related to the enrichment of chocolate and creation of concentrations that are not commonly found in nature.
The research said that a person eating 100g of chocolate per day, the standard size for most chocolate tablets, would have a Beta-PEA intake of between 0.36-0.83 mg/day depending on the type of chocolate.
These results suggest that the amount of chocolate that a person takes normally might be toxic to dopaminergic neurons," said Borah et al. in their review.
"It is possible that phenylethylamine in certain types of chocolate mostly hybrid or GMO are not being metabolized as quickly through enzymatic action and the proteins are not able to assist with metabolism, thus allowing trace amounts to reach the brain," said biotechnology analyst and professor Dr. George Laskaris.
Scientists have finalized gene sequencing of the cocoa genome which they some experts say will have enhanced concentrations of phenylethylamine they claim will "benefit" the chocolate industry and cocoa growers in West Africa where 70 percent of the world's cocoa is produced.
"We won't know what the long-term health implications of increased phenylethylamine in chocolate will be until people start consuming it," said Dr. Laskaris. Enriched sources of the compound in chocolate may also cause toxic levels in the body should they not be properly metabolized.
When the initial phenylethylamine brain concentration is low, brain levels can be increased 1000-fold when taking an enzyme inhibitors, and by 3-4 times when the initial concentration is high. If unmetabolized, Beta-PEA can easily cross the blood-brain barrier and rapidly affect the brain. Beta-PEA excites billions of brain neurons to release more neurotransmitters, increasing brain activity, however the long-term health effects are unknown from daily orally ingested Beta-PEA.
According to the global head of plant science and research at the confectionery firm, Howard-Yana Shapiro, the cocoa sequence is of great importance.
"As plant breeders, we're always looking after the golden traits: pest and disease resistant, drought tolerance, the ability to adapt to climate change, tree architecture, yield quality, etc," said Dr Shapiro.
The results of gene sequencing have been published on the Cacao Genome Database website.
The United States, Germany and France make up more than half of the world's cocoa consumption with the United States by far the largest consumer. Consequently, should the effects of genetically modified cocoa result in unintended health effects or consequences to consumers, the US population will be the first to exhibit those effects on a mass scale.
Polyphenols May Negate Effects
Various antioxidants such as polyphenols could negate any undesired effects of Beta-PEA as many studies have said polyphenols like cathechins may be protective against Parkinson's Disease.
Borah et al. said Parkinson's Disease was not yet fully understood, but excessive production of reactive oxygen species and the resulting mitochondrial complex-l dysfunction were widely regarded as the underlying cause.
They said Beta-PEA could lead to the production of hydroxyl radical (.OH) and the generation of oxidative stress in dopaminergic areas of the brain, possibly leading to Parkison's Disease. However, more research on the human effect is needed.
Parkinson's Sufferers Eat More Chocolate
Scientists had previously pondered whether chocolate had beneficial effects for Parkinson's sufferers, who tend to consume more than the general population.
In May last year, we reported on a study that said there was no evidence that chocolate improved motor function in Parkinson's Disease sufferers and concluded the reason for increased chocolate consumption was "largely enigmatic".
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.