January 27, 2021

The Niche

Trusted stem cell blog & resources

Death by chocolate? Let’s crunch the numbers for people

death by chocolate, big chocolate
Death by chocolate for people? Not likely unless you ate this giant candy bar.

The day after Easter and thoughts might turn to all those chocolate bunnies, eggs, etc…..leading to a question: is death by chocolate possible?

What is the amount of chocolate you or I would have to eat in order to die?

Could we even get close on a holiday like Halloween or Easter?

It seems like many people eat a lot of chocolate (pic from DailyMail of largest chocolate bar).

Of course we all know that certain animals like dogs and cats are much more sensitive to chocolate than humans so keep chocolate away from them, but I wondered:

Could a human die a death by chocolate?

Let’s do the “death by chocolate” numbers.

Although chocolate has saturated fat that could prove lethal in the long run or even acutely by triggering a heart attack, this is an unlikely event.

The two things in chocolate that might be far more acutely dangerous are caffeine and a related chemical called theobromine.

Metabolism of both caffeine and theobromine vary from person to person as likely does sensitivity, but we’ll aim for averages.

Death by chocolate via caffeine?

The omniscient and always accurate Wikipedia says, “The LD50 of caffeine in humans is dependent on individual sensitivity, but is estimated to be 150 to 200 milligrams per kilogram of body mass”.

In today’s hypercaffeinated world with probably an increased tolerance, let’s go with 200 mg/kg. So how could we achieve death by eating too much chocolate due to caffeine poisoning? If we say the average woman weighs 60kg, then in a group of women half would be estimated to die with mean consumption of 12,000 mg or 12 grams of caffeine. There is about 10mg of caffeine per ounce of moderately dark chocolate so death could come from the amount present in 1,200 ounces, 75 pounds or 34 kilograms of chocolate. That’s a lot of chocolate eggs or bunnies.

If you switch over to the weaker milk chocolate typically found in Easter candy, our lady of chocolate would likely have to eat her own body weight in chocolate to approach having a 50% chance of dying from caffeine poisoning. The same would be true of a man gobbling chocolate.

I’m guessing the average woman would be vomiting well before then. So I don’t think anyone with normal metabolism and sensitivity is going to die just from caffeine from chocolate consumption.

Of course some people are super sensitive and with say a 15-times more sensitive constitution to caffeine than average could croak by this route via as “little” as 5 pounds of chocolate or maybe 2.5 pounds of very dark chocolate. Doable on Easter on Halloween?

OK, how about death by chocolate via theobromine?

This is actually relatively more probable, but still would take quite an effort.

Maybe first we should note that the word theobromine means “food of the gods”. Could it be the food ingredient to “send you to the gods”?

Theobromine is a chemical relative to caffeine also present in chocolate with its own toxicity profile.  The LD50 of theobromine varies more widely it seems, but we will go with 500mg/kg. Chocolate varies in theobromine concentration, but a moderate dark type would have about 100mg per ounce.

Let’s say again that the average woman weighs 60kg. About half of women would die from theobromine poisoning after consuming 30,000 mg or 30g of theobromine, present in….drum roll please…300 ounces or just under 19 pounds or 8.5 kg of chocolate.

Again, as with the caffeine situation, it would be difficult to eat that much chocolate and keep it down, but theobromine gives a better chance of death by chocolate than caffeine.

Dark chocolate

Maybe if you are Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka you could drink enough from a river of dark chocolate?

Someone very sensitive to theobromine could die from eating a lot of chocolate though and eating very dark chocolate could increase the likelihood further.

A wildcard here is that consuming large amounts of both caffeine and the related molecule theobromine, again together found in chocolate, could have additive or even synergistic effects. For example, the LD50 of theobromine or caffeine is likely to be significantly lower in the presence of a large amount of the other. In addition metabolism of theobromine produces caffeine in the body as well.

Still, basically overall, human death by chocolate isn’t very likely from caffeine or theobromine, but given the degree of human polymorphism, how crazy some people are for chocolate, the presence of caffeine and theobromine both in chocolate, and the increasing appetite for dark chocolate, I’m guessing some people have indeed died from eating chocolate.

Here are some apparently real cases where chocolate was poisoned leading to death and other odd deaths linked to chocolate. I could not, however, find any case of death simply from eating unadulterated chocolate due to the chocolate itself.

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