Life is Like a Box of Chocolatesby Jennifer Gibson, PharmD | May 31, 2010
Through the course of modern human history, chocolate has been considered the most special of all confections. Chocolate inspires deep love and devotion from those who partake of it, and its ability to enhance one’s mood has been advertised by men, women and children — and candy manufacturers — everywhere. Now, new evidence may put all that positive information under wraps; a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine reports that individuals who eat more chocolate are at a greater risk of depression.
The new study examined a cross-section of approximately 1000 adults (about one-third were women) and examined their intake of chocolate. None of them had diabetes or coronary artery disease. More than 900 of the subjects were not using antidepressants. The participants completed a questionnaire to assess symptoms of depression, and they reported the number of chocolate servings they ate per week. Researchers compared the depression scale scores to chocolate consumption.
Overall, participants with scores indicating positive possible depression consumed significantly more chocolate than those not scoring positive (8.4 servings per month vs. 5.4 servings per month). Participants with higher depression scale scores, indicating probable major depression, consumed still more chocolate (11.8 servings per month). There was no difference between men and women, and the results were not related to a general intake of fat, calories or carbohydrate intake, the authors stated. They were unable to determine if there was a causal connection between chocolate and depression, and, if so, in what direction.
Possibly, chocolate does have mood benefits and chocolate cravings are the body’s way of self-treating depression. Many studies have supported the idea that chocolate enhances mood; negative mood is often immediately improved after consuming chocolate, though the effect is generally short-lived. This immediate mood benefit likely contributes to the habit of eating to cope with stress. Chocolate consumption is also associated with increased guilt in many studies, primarily in so-called emotional eaters.
In addition to mood benefits, claims that chocolate improves cardiovascular health and has positive nutritive properties abound. The cardiovascular protective effects of chocolate are believed to come from the polyphenols that come from cocoa. Additionally, dark chocolate is believed to have positive effects on the action of insulin, as well as protect human skin from damage caused by UV rays.
Chocolate is a long way away from being considered a health food or prescribed as a treatment for chronic diseases. However, its sociocultural allure is unchanging. The new study, though, does inspire questions on emotion-regulated eating versus eating to regulate emotion. But, no matter the cause and effect of chocolate’s relationship with depression, consumption of the quintessential confection is not likely to change anytime soon.
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