Summary: Eating dark chocolate can help reduce anxiety and improve symptoms of clinical depression. People who ate dark chocolate in two 24-hour periods had 70% reduced odds of reporting depressive symptoms than those who did not eat chocolate. However, milk chocolate did not produce the same effect. Dark chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a neuromodulator implicated in mood regulation.
Eating dark chocolate may positively affect mood and relieve depressive symptoms, finds a new UCL-led study looking at whether different types of chocolate are associated with mood disorders.
The study, published in Depression and Anxiety, is the first to examine the association with depression according to the type of chocolate consumed.
Researchers from UCL worked in collaboration with scientists from the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services Canada and assessed data from 13,626 adults from 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 percent lower odds of reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms than those who reported not eating chocolate at all. The 25 percent 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, researchers found no significant link between any non‐dark chocolate consumption and clinically relevant depressive symptoms.
Depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation, and is the leading global cause of disability.
Lead author Dr Sarah Jackson (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care) said: “This study provides some evidence that consumption of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, may be associated with reduced odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms.
“However 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.
“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.”
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 also 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.
While the above is true of all types of chocolate, dark chocolate has a higher concentration of flavonoids, antioxidant chemicals which have been shown to improve inflammatory profiles, which have been shown to play a role in the onset of depression.
About this neuroscience research article
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Is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression? A cross‐sectional survey of 13,626 US adults
Objective: To examine associations between chocolate consumption and depressive symptoms in a large, representative sample of US adults.
Methods: The data were from 13,626 adults (≥20 years) participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007–08 and 2013–14. Daily chocolate consumption was derived from two 24‐hr dietary recalls. Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ‐9), with scores ≥10 indicating the presence of clinically relevant symptoms. We used multivariable logistic regression to test associations of chocolate consumption (no chocolate, non‐dark chocolate, dark chocolate) and amount of chocolate consumption (grams/day, in quartiles) with clinically relevant depressive symptoms. Adults with diabetes were excluded and models controlled for relevant sociodemographic, lifestyle, health‐related, and dietary covariates.
Results: Overall, 11.1% of the population reported any chocolate consumption, with 1.4% reporting dark chocolate consumption. Although non‐dark chocolate consumption was not significantly associated with clinically relevant depressive symptoms, significantly lower odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms (OR = 0.30, 95%CI 0.21–0.72) were observed among those who reported consuming dark chocolate. Analyses stratified by the amount of chocolate consumption showed participants reporting chocolate consumption in the highest quartile (104–454 g/day) had 57% lower odds of depressive symptoms than those who reported no chocolate consumption (OR = 0.43, 95%CI 0.19–0.96) after adjusting for dark chocolate consumption.
Conclusions: These results provide some evidence that consumption of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, may be associated with reduced odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms. Further research capturing long‐term chocolate consumption and using a longitudinal design are required to confirm these findings and clarify the direction of causation.