Dark Chocolate Consumption May Reduce Depression Symptoms

A new study, published recently in the journal Depression and Anxiety, provides evidence that consumption of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, may be associated with reduced odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms.

Eating dark chocolate may positively affect mood and relieve depressive symptoms. Image credit: Sci-News.com.

Eating dark chocolate may positively affect mood and relieve depressive symptoms. Image credit: Sci-News.com.

Chocolate is widely reported to have mood-enhancing properties and several mechanisms for a relationship between chocolate and mood have been proposed.

Principally, chocolate contains a number of psychoactive ingredients which produce a feeling of euphoria similar to that of cannabinoid, found in cannabis. It also contains phenylethylamine, a neuromodulator which is believed to be important for regulating people’s moods.

Experimental evidence suggests that mood improvements only take place if the chocolate is palatable and pleasant to eat, which suggests that the experience of enjoying chocolate is an important factor, not just the ingredients present.

Dr. Sarah Jackson of University College London and colleagues set out to examine the relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression in a large, nationally-representative sample of adults living in the US.

They analyzed data from 13,626 adults participating in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Participants’ chocolate consumption was assessed against their scores on the Patient Health Questionnaire, which assesses depressive symptoms.

In the cross-sectional study, a range of other factors including height, weight, marital status, ethnicity, education, household income, physical activity, smoking and chronic health problems were also taken into account to ensure the study only measured chocolate’s effect on depressive symptoms.

After adjusting for these factors, it was found that individuals who reported eating any dark chocolate in two 24-hour periods had 70% lower odds of reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms than those who reported not eating chocolate at all.

The 25% of chocolate consumers who ate the most chocolate (of any kind, not just dark) were also less likely to report depressive symptoms than those who didn’t eat chocolate at all.

However, the scientists found no significant link between any non-dark chocolate consumption and clinically relevant depressive symptoms.

“Further research is required to clarify the direction of causation — it could be the case that depression causes people to lose their interest in eating chocolate, or there could be other factors that make people both less likely to eat dark chocolate and to be depressed,” Dr. Jackson said.

“Should a causal relationship demonstrating a protective effect of chocolate consumption on depressive symptoms be established, the biological mechanism needs to be understood to determine the type and amount of chocolate consumption for optimal depression prevention and management.”

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Sarah E. Jackson et al. Is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression? A cross-sectional survey of 13,626 US adults. Depression and Anxiety, published online July 29, 2019; doi: 10.1002/da.22950

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