Do You Eat Chocolate to Relieve Depression–or Does Chocolate Make You Depressed?

By Smriti Rao | April 27, 2010 11:27 am

iStock_000008675082XSmallScientists have long suspected that a link exists between mood and chocolate, as studies (done primarily with women) have suggested that eating a chocolate bar temporarily banished the blues. Now a study has brought new complexity to the issue with its finding that depressed people consume larger amounts of chocolate. But researchers are no closer to figuring out which factor is the cause and which is the effect: Do glum people reach for a Hershey bar to lift their spirits, or is the chocolate actually bringing them down?

For this study, researchers at the University of California studied 931 men and women who weren’t on antidepressants and quizzed them on their chocolate-chomping habits. Then, using a standard screening survey, they assessed the volunteers for symptoms of depression. The scientists found that those who were the most blue consumed the most chocolate.

This held true for both the men and the women;  people who were depressed ate an average of 8.4 servings of chocolate per month, compared with 5.4 servings among those who were not depressed [Reuters]. Those who scored highest on the mood tests, indicating possible major depression, consumed an average of 11.8 servings per month [Los Angeles Times]. The findings led the research team to conclude in the Archives of Internal Medicine that “depressed mood was significantly related to higher chocolate consumption.”

While the study established a link between chocolate eating and depression, the researchers could not pin down how the two things are related. The authors suggest that depression might stimulate chocolate cravings, and that people might reach for a candy bar to self-medicate; chocolate prompts the release of certain chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, that produce feelings of pleasure [Los Angeles Times]. But it’s also possible chocolate only provides a short-term lift, and that over time, it contributes to depression. Yet another possibility is that a separate physiological mechanism, like stress, is responsible for both depression and an appetite for chocolate. With this cloud of uncertainty hovering over the candy isle, chocoholics will be eagerly awaiting further studies.

Related Content:
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80beats: Are Women’s Brains Hard-Wired to Have Trouble Resisting Temptation?
80beats: For Obese Women, a Milkshake Brings Less Pleasure to the Brain

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
  • Cheryl Sullivan

    Interesting. What about the study by Debra Zellner that found that women in Spain do not crave chocolate as much as American women do? Her belief is that there is a psychological component to the cravings in American culture, but that there probably isn’t any neurological impact. Would be interesting to see if the depression/chocolate connection is true in Spain.

  • Cassandra

    Gee

    What if you are not depressed, and eat more than 12 servings of chocolate a month?

    Some people in the medical field recommend having some dark chocolate every day – if chocolate causes depression, people following that advice should show a dramatic spike in depression symptoms.

  • Kristen

    The minute I saw this blog post, I had to eat some chocolate. Anyway… could it be the sugar in chocolate, rather than the cocoa? I find sugar has a HUGE impact on my mood (see my blog post related to this at http://keagiles.blogspot.com/2010/03/read-it.html. I’m working on a blog post right now about dark dark chocolate…

  • Megan

    Hmmmmm…. This really makes you think man am I depressed. JK :) But on the serious side I do not believe that chocolate causes depression; I just feel that it might be used to relieve depression. People who are depressed often do a lot of something like over eating , not eating , sleeping alot, or even shopping alot. So I can understand the correlation between the two. I have heard that chocolate has be used in place of sex as well so you never know why people crave it so much.

  • G Hats

    It’s funny… i’m a very positive person. Love my life, and generally consider myself happy, definitely far from depressed. Yet… I eat chocolate at least once daily, often twice. I’m not sure how big their “Servings” are but I eat 2-3 square of lindt (or similar) dark chocolate (70% – 85%) as my usual serving. I don’t do it to self medicate, i do it because i thoroughly enjoy the taste, as well as do a lot of exercise and sometimes feel my blood sugars getting low. I definitely DO NOT think it is contributing to any depression in my life and yet it sounds like i eat more chocolate than almost anyone in that study!

  • Sharon

    Chocolate gives me a boost of energy, and yes gives a feeling of contentment joy

  • Paula

    If I eat too much chocolate, I feel horribly depressed the next day. It seems to be genetic, as my father experiences the same problem, but in his case feels ill rather than depressed. Neither of us noticed this problem until well after I was an adult, probably because much stronger chocolate is popular now, and the dosage is important in how bad it makes us feel. The milk chocolate we ate when I was a kid contained only 10% cacao.

  • Dominique Sutherland

    For me chocolate gives me a boost of energy a bit like caffeine (though, I do not drink coffee / too bitter). So both sugar and caffeine in chocolate just gives a boost, and of course you crash when the effect is over. But it’s for the taste I eat it not for the effect.
    The only thing it might create if I really eat too much of it: I can get spots on my face (I am not a teenager / I am middle age) and my liver gets a bit stressed and I may end up being irritable. So everything in moderation. And yes I am often sad, but I have a good reason for that ( grief). DS

  • http://www.lawsonclinic.com.au Alex Styles, Depression

    I have tried chocolate before and it does improve my mood and my depression just for a short time though.

  • http://- sylvia

    When I eat chocolate, I get depressed. I thought that chocolate was suppossed to have the opposite effect. I once ate alot of Lindt chocolate and spent the next day in horrible depression. I new then that like any other food, chocolate affects people differently. It’s an individual thing. For those that chocolate affects negatively, I believe that it’s probably an allergy with delayed immune response.

  • Judy F. Eason

    |I am very glad I found this article about chocolate. I eat Dark Chocolate every night,when ||I retire
    and sleep I dream alot, and sometimes nightmares. when I awake I feel down and depressed, so that
    I don’t want to get up. when I do and have my cup of coffee.(caffeine) and eat something, I feel
    better. I wonder if the two counteract the other? I plan to discontinue the chocolate right away
    and hope so much that this helps me.

  • Bob Hall

    Well I’ve just gone to get some chocolate out of a chocolate tin and someone has filled it with dried pasta! Now I feel depressed.

  • Marta

    Chocolate can cause depression, rage, paranoia, irritability, and fatigue. I’ve been doing “seat of the pants” research on this for years. I’m not a scientist, but I’ve found articles about the negative effects of chocolate. It has a neurotoxin called salsolinol. It contains alkaloids like theobromine (NOT caffeine) that may contribute to moodiness. It’s also toxic to your liver.

    I have chronic depression anyway and always have, and I find that avoiding sugar, especially chocolate, helps me stay calm. Eating one brownie puts me in a deep, paranoid depression for up to a week. If I eat a lot of it, I get horrible migraines, and when I avoid it I don’t get migraines at all. I consider chocolate a mild drug. It has similar properties to marijuana. I think more research should be done on this so-called health food. I’m especially concerned about kids eating it!! Maybe we shouldn’t prescribe them ritalin or prozac – maybe we should just take away their chocolate!!

  • betty

    In chocolates ingredients:

    Cocoa solids contain alkaloids such as theobromine and phenethylamine, which have physiological effects on the body.
    It has been linked to serotonin levels in the brain. Some research found that chocolate, eaten in moderation, can lower blood pressure
    As sugar is there its energy booster.
    Milk as ingredient is good for calcium
    Nuts have high fat content also protein, Vit E, mag, phos, etc phytonutrients in nuts.

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