Halloween Scaremongering: Death by Chocolate
Today is Halloween! And what's Halloween without a little festive scaremongering?
This evening, city blocks across the country will be packed with people masquerading as ghouls, goblins, specters, and (God forbid) twerking Miley Cyruses, all tricking, treating, and occasionally extorting their ways to a bounty of delectable candy. When bags are teeming and parents are seething, that's when the wanton gluttony can finally begin.
Now would be a good time to warn about the dangers of eating poisoned or booby-trapped candy. Except such fears are totally unfounded. So instead, I'd like to present something else for you to fear: death by chocolate poisoning. Yes, it's possible!
The key to chocolate's deadliness is a bitter-tasting chemical called theobromine. Like nicotine, cocaine, and morphine, theobromine is an alkaloid, defined chiefly by the presence of at least one nitrogen compound in a heterocyclic ring. Cacao beans, from which chocolate is derived, naturally contain approximately 1.2% of the compound by weight, and since all chocolate has some amount of cacao, the popular sweet also has a little theobromine.
In the human body, moderate quantities of theobromine widen blood vessels, stimulate the heart, and act as a diuretic. But in larger quantities, theobromine isn't quite so medicinal. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea manifest first, followed by irregular heartbeat, seizures, internal bleeding, heart attack, and DEATH. Still thinking of handing out Reese's Peanut Butter Cups tonight?
Except, as you've hopefully learned through years of scoffing chocolate eclairs, chocolate bars, and chocolate whatever, you've nothing to worry about.
To develop nausea from theobromine intoxication requires piggishness on the order of Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory -- you have to eat a lot. To die from it is a chore on a whole other magnitude. The dose at which 50% of people will expire from theobromine intake is around 1000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. That means that an average ten-year-old child stuffing sweets into his or her mouth this evening would need to consume 1,900 Hersey's milk chocolate miniature candies. If they have a taste for dark chocolate -- which contains more cacao, and thus, theobromine -- they'd still have to devour 659 of those miniature candies, 16.3 pounds of chocolate!
Dogs, cats, birds, and other animals aren't so lucky, however. They metabolize theobromine about five times more slowly, so the compound has much more time to accumulate in their bodies to toxic levels.
Hand out chocolates and allow your children to indulge (to a degree), but keep your pets out of the picture!
(Images: Shutterstock 1 and 2)