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Death by Sweets: How Much Chocolate Would You Have to Eat to 'Overdose'?

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We get it: After a hectic day shuttling the kids around, cooking dinner for the world's pickiest eaters, and finishing up some work tasks before that meeting with your boss tomorrow, you deserve a piece of chocolate. But one piece quickly becomes five, and before you know it, you've finished the box. If you've ever been in your chocolate-induced daze and wondered whether you could eat so much chocolate that it would kill you, the answer is, sadly, yes — but it's pretty hard to do so. 

Is chocolate bad for you? 

We all know feeding dogs chocolate is a bad idea, but is chocolate poisonous to humans? Theobromine, which is the substance in chocolate that can kill dogs, is a bitter-tasting plant alkaloid that acts as a mild stimulant, like caffeine. Theobromine is also a vasodilator (meaning it widens blood vessels) and a diuretic. A study published in the Hypertension journal in 2010 also tested it as a treatment option for high blood pressure. Another study from 2015 that was published in Frontiers in Pharmacology suggest that theobromine can positively affect mood. 

For all its benefits, theobromine does have negative side effects. "High doses have been associated with rapid heart rate, nausea, loss of appetite, sweating, trembling, severe headache, and negative effects on mood," according to the National Institutes of Health's Toxicology Data Network. In other words, in large doses, theobromine can kill you — but a fatal dosage is quite high. 

"One thing that is helpful — and I don’t know if 'helpful' is the right word — but some of the initial symptoms are nausea and vomiting,” Reed Caldwell, MD, told Popular Science. “So the initial toxicity symptoms may help prevent people from consuming a lethal amount.”

Theobromine is considered toxic at 1,000 milligrams of theobromine per kilogram of body weight. If the average woman weighs 168.5 pounds (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), she would need to eat 76,000 milligrams of theobromine to reach a lethal dose.

The levels of theobromine in chocolate vary by type; milk chocolate has about 2.4 milligrams of theobromine per gram, dark chocolate has about 5.5 milligrams per gram, and baker's chocolate has a whopping 16 milligrams per gram. OK, those numbers might not mean much without context, so here are some handy comparisons. For the average woman to ingest 76,000 milligrams of theobromine, she would have to eat:

So as much as you think you like chocolate — really, really like chocolate — it would still be hard to overdose on this sweet stuff. Now that the chocoholics among us can relax a little bit, we'll let you get back to your snacking!

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