Chocolate and Depression: What’s the Connection?
Who doesn’t love a bit of decadent chocolate every now and again? But could we be overdoing it? Well, the most recent study on the subject has found that people with depression symptoms consume 56% more servings of chocolate candy in a month than those without the symptoms. And people with possible major depression eat twice as many servings of chocolate candy. A serving was one ounce, or two-thirds or less of a regular-size chocolate bar. The findings applied to both men and women. Fat, carbohydrate and energy intake didn’t appear to account for the differences in consumption.
The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, involved 931 men and women from California, who were not taking antidepressant medications. Those screening positive for possible depression ate 8.4 servings of chocolate candy per month, compared to 5.4 servings per month for those without depression symptoms. People with possible major depression consumed 11.8 servings a month.
So is there a connection between chocolate and mood? It’s hard to say. Previous studies have examined the association, but many have had notable limitations. This study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, went a step further but also couldn’t determine if people with depression symptoms reach for chocolate as a temporary mood lifter, or whether some other factor is at work.
In fact, the researchers propose at least four other potential explanations: Depression could stimulate chocolate cravings as “self-treatment”—or for unrelated reasons. Chocolate may contribute to a depressed mood. Or inflammation and oxidative stress in the body could lead to both depression and chocolate cravings. There are many other possible explanations.
In this study, depression scores were based on the CES-D scale, which is a screening test, and doesn’t necessarily indicate a depression diagnosis.
How Much Chocolate is in a Chocolate Bar?
Then there is the matter of the actual chocolate or cacao content. The food questionnaires used in the study asked about the consumption of chocolate. But chocolate candies vary in the amount of chocolate or cacao they contain; in fact, some contain little to no cacao. And, as any chocoholic can testify, there are distinct differences between milk chocolates and dark chocolates, as well as differences between brands.
So, while this study provides food for thought, it is not the last word on the subject. For general health, it makes sense to limit consumption of chocolate candy, since it contains excess sugar and fat. The researchers also point out that many chocolate candies contain trans fats, which inhibit the production of omega-3 fatty acids and may lead to worse mood.