A study done at UCSD and UC-Davis has looked at the link between chocolate consumption and depression. Shari Roan at the LA Times has a nice report on it here.
When the researchers controlled for other dietary factors that could be linked to mood — such as caffeine, fat and carbohydrate intake — they found only chocolate consumption correlated with mood.
It's not clear how the two are linked, the authors wrote. It could be that depression stimulates chocolate cravings as a form of self-treatment. Chocolate prompts the release of certain chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, that produce feelings of pleasure.
There is no evidence, however, that chocolate has a sustained benefit on improving mood. Like alcohol, chocolate may contribute a short-term boost in mood followed by a return to depression or a worsened mood. A study published in 2007 in the journal Appetite found that eating chocolate improved mood but only for about three minutes.
it's also possible that depressed people seek chocolate to improve mood but that the trans fats in some chocolate counteract the effect of omega-3 fatty acid production in the body, the authors said in the paper. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to improve mental health.
Another theory is that chocolate consumption contributes to depression or that some physiological mechanism, such as stress, drives both depression and chocolate cravings.
"It's unlikely that chocolate makes people depressed," said Marcia Levin Pelchat, a psychologist who studies food cravings at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. She was not involved in the new study. "Most people believe the beneficial effects of chocolate are on mood and that they are learned. You eat chocolate; it makes you feel good, and sometime when you're feeling badly it occurs to you, ‘Gee, if I eat some chocolate I might feel better.' "
1. I hope this will lead to a double blind study, as I would be very willing to sign up. I'm not sure what the placebo control group would ingest, though! What's a placebo to chocolate?
2. We now have chocolate Cheerios!?!
3. Previous studies on chocolate and mood show a few consistencies: Women reach for the cocoa more than men, there is at least a short term elevation of mood, and those with mixed anxiety/depression or atypical depression seem to use chocolate more.
4. Why does chocolate have any effect? Chocolate has several chemicals that are likely psychoactive: Serotonin is a mood enhancer (increased by medications like Prozac) and Tyramine potentiates Serotonin. Theobromine and Caffeine are both stimulants. (Side note: Dogs lack the enzyme to break down Theobromine, thus it is neurotoxic to dogs). Chocolate also has Phenylethylamine, which releases endorphins (natural opiods) which give a sense of euphoria. This is similar to the "runner's high." One study done in 1995 (by Andrew Drewnowski at the University of Michigan) showed that when one blocked this natural endorphin with a medication (Naltrexone), than the subjects ate less chocolate. (Side note: Phenylethylamine is also released when one is falling in love)
5. Over 3 million tons of cocoa beans are consumed around the world annually. The market value of the current annual cocoa crop is $5.1 billion. (Source: World Cocoa Foundation)