Eating Chocolate Is Linked To Depression

People who eat more chocolate are more likely to be depressed than people who eat less chocolate, according to a new study, but researchers can’t figure out whether depression boosts chocolate-consumption or if it’s the other way around.

Study subjects believed to be at risk of major depression ate an average of 11.8 servings of chocolate a month, as compared to 5.4 servings of chocolate per month among those who weren't depressed. Photo: Reuters

People who eat more chocolate are more likely to be depressed than people who eat less chocolate, according to a new study, but researchers can’t figure out whether depression boosts chocolate-consumption or if it’s the other way around, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Chocolate may have anti-depressant properties that stimulate cravings, the researchers say, or it may be the case that some kinds of chocolate block the fatty acids known to affect mental health.

“It’s possible chocolate has antidepressant effects and that’s why they are eating chocolate,” said Beatrice Golomb, one of the study’s researchers and an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego. “I think many of us believe chocolate consumption, at least in the short term, makes us feel better.”

Dr. Golomb with her colleagues looked at 931 adults who weren’t taking antidepressants and didn’t have known cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The same group of patients was being screened as part of separate research involving cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Participants were asked about how many servings of chocolate they ate per week and then were screened for depression, using a questionnaire about mood, sleep and eating habits that doctors use to determine if a person might be depressed.

A depression-rating scale indicates whether a person should be referred to a psychiatrist for additional evaluation and possible treatment. Patients who score higher than a 16 on the scale are considered possibly depressed; those who score above 22 are considered likely to be depressed. People whose scores are 16 or less aren’t considered depressed.

The study found that “possibly depressed” individuals, who scored above 16, ate 8.4 servings of chocolate per month. People who weren’t depressed, scoring at or below 16, ate 5.4 servings of chocolate per month. Patients with scores higher than 22—or those most likely to be depressed—ate the most chocolate, with 11.8 servings a month.

Dr. Golomb says she is a regular chocolate eater who isn’t depressed. “I tell all my patients: Chocolate is a vegetable,” she told the Wall Street Journal, recommending that people stick to moderate consumption of “real” chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa butter. A serving of chocolate is one ounce, slightly less than a chocolate bar.

Researchers looked at other foods the participants consumed, including fish, fruit and vegetables, and found no differences between people likely to be depressed and those unlikely to be depressed—suggesting their findings are specific to chocolate. Nor did coffee and other caffeine sources affect depression scores. The study also found that no other food had the same tie to mood.

Dr. Golomb said the chocolate-depression findings were the same for men and women. Men made up about 70% of the study. Participants’ average age was about 58. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, and by the University of California, San Diego, funded the study. [via Wall Street Journal; image via Wall Street Journal]

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