Can a Chocolate a Day Keep Depression Away?

People who eat dark chocolate daily report fewer symptoms of depression.

Posted Aug 13, 2019

Monfocus/Pixabay, used with permission
Chocolate can boost your mood.
Source: Monfocus/Pixabay, used with permission

Once again, researchers have found evidence of mental health benefits from eating chocolate. Though past studies have had conflicting results, the majority point to a positive link between chocolate consumption and a decrease in depressive symptoms or an elevated mood.

Now, a nationally representative survey of the chocolate eating habits and depressive symptoms of more than 13,000 American adults, aged 20 to 80, has found that those who regularly eat any amount of any type of dark chocolate significantly cut their odds of developing depressive symptoms compared to those who eat no chocolate at all.

For the purposes of this study, dark chocolate was defined as any chocolate containing 45% or more cocoa solids. No benefit was seen for those study participants who reported eating no dark chocolate or no chocolate consumption at all. These results—which appeared to cut the risk of clinically significant depressive symptoms by more than half—were evident even after the researchers accounted for participants’ age, education level, income, body weight, chronic health conditions, physical activity, alcohol intake, and other factors that could be associated with depressive symptoms.

The researchers suggest several ways chocolate might play an active role in preventing or reducing symptoms of depression. Chocolate contains psychoactive ingredients, including some that produce euphoric effects similar to those of cannabis. Chocolate also contains neurochemicals that play a role in the regulation of mood and depression and antioxidants that help fight inflammation, which may also factor into depression. And to many people, eating chocolate induces feelings of pleasure simply because it tastes good.

The downside to this study is that only a small percentage (approximately 1%) of those surveyed actually reported eating dark chocolate and from limited information supplied, their average chocolate consumption was considered low (11.7 grams or less than 1/2 ounce). Self-reporting surveys are not as accurate as clinical studies. And while this study adds to the existing body of evidence linking dark chocolate to more positive moods, there is no indication that chocolate alone can improve serious symptoms of depression.

More and better-controlled studies are needed to confirm cause-and-effect and determine exactly what type, form, and amount of dark chocolate can be generally recommended for alleviating symptoms of any mental health disorder.

References

Jackson SE, Smith L, Firth J, Grabovac I, et al. Is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression? A cross-sectional survey of 13,626 US adults. Depression & Anxiety. Published online July 29, 2018. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/da.22950

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