Chocolate vs. Depression
Good news for chocolate lovers: there’s more evidence out that chocolate can be part of a (mentally) healthy diet.
Previous research has suggested that chocolate might be associated with lower risk of depression. So a recent study decided to examine that possibility more closely in a large pool of adults chosen to be representative of the US population.
In the study, researchers tracked depressive symptoms and chocolate consumption among 13,626 adults living in the US.
Chocolate enthusiasts generally tended to fare well. Overall, the most prolific quarter of chocolate consumers were less than half as likely to have clinical levels of depressive symptoms as chocolate abstainers.
Dark chocolate devotees came out especially well. Compared to everyone else, the 1.4 percent of adults who reported eating dark chocolate were less than a third as likely to have symptoms of clinical depression.
Despite the large size of this study, there’s still the question of whether chocolate consumption actually caused the lower depression risk. Given the size of the effect, it’s quite possible that other, more significant factors influenced both depression risk and chocolate consumption. The authors of the study highlight the need for “further research capturing long-term chocolate consumption” and studies that “clarify the direction of causation.”
Still, these latest findings can only be good news for anyone who enjoys the occasional candy bar. At the very least, moderate chocolate consumption appears to be consistent with a healthy, happy lifestyle, even if we can’t say definitively that it increases happiness. As far as mental health goes, you could probably do worse than a square of dark chocolate.
For those who want to try taking advantage of chocolate’s potential mood-boosting effects, it might make a difference how you eat the chocolate too. If you’re interested in practicing chocolate-based mindfulness, check out the article I wrote a few years ago on eating chocolate for optimal happiness!
The antidepressant ingredient of chocolate is not a mystery. It’s known to be phenylethylamine. I am surprise the author didn’t mention this in the article.
Thanks for your comment. There are different hypotheses about what compounds in chocolate, if any, might have a significant antidepressant effect, and these hypotheses have varying degrees of (generally inconclusive) evidence to support them.
Phenylethylamine is one idea that’s been tossed out, but keep in mind that phenylethylamine tends to get metabolized before reaching the brain. It’s not even clear that the phenylethylamine in chocolate increases levels of phenethylamine in the brain. Flavanoids are another type of compound in chocolate that have gotten attention (e.g., see this review), but the idea that these give chocolate antidepressant properties is still speculative. Another hypothesis is that chocolate boosts people’s moods just because people enjoy eating it. As I mentioned in the article, scientists are still trying to figure out to what extent chocolate even causes the decrease in depression risk observed and to what extent it’s just another example of correlation-but-not-causation, which is very common in psychology/epidemiological studies.
So eat your chocolate and you won’t commit suicide but instead you have to deal with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.