It seems almost cliché to be drawn to chocolate when you are feeling sad. But new research shows that you aren’t alone – people who are depressed eat more chocolate.
Researchers at University of California San Diego and UC Davis studied the connection between diet and depression in 931 men and women who were clinically depressed but not on any medication as treatment. Participants were screened for depression and asked to report the dietary intake, including chocolate consumption.
Even without other dietary factors involved, such as an overall penchant for sweet eating or a high-carbohydrate diet, chocolate seemed directly correlated with mood.
Overall, those who screened positive for depression consumed an average of 8.4 one-ounce servings of chocolate per month. Using data from a control group, those who were not depressed ate about 5.4 servings per month.
The researchers also found that the more depressed a person was, the more they consumed chocolate. Those who scored highest on the screening test, indicating possible major depression consumed an average of 11.8 servings per month.
Unlike past studies of food and mood which focused mainly on women, this study found that men also reach for chocolate when feeling depressed. Seventy percent of the study participants were men.
Chocolate and Depression
Chocolate prompts the release of pleasure-producing chemicals in the brain, including dopamine and serotonin. This may not be the only reason for the link. People who are depressed may use chocolate as a form of self-treatment, albeit a temporary one. A study published in 2007 in the journal Appetite found that eating chocolate only improved mood for about three minutes.
"Emotional chocolate eaters may be looking for an immediate change that exercise or antidepressants can bring," says Susan Albers, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who was not involved in the study. But, she adds, a chocolate rush is often followed by a crash, and "The crash will make the depression worse."
Because of this, researchers encourage those who are depressed and eating lots of chocolate to look for more direct solutions for treatment, including therapy, medications, or healthful lifestyle behaviors such as stress management and exercise.
The researchers note that their study did not distinguish between different types of chocolate. Milk chocolate and dark chocolate contain different amounts of cocoa, so it is not known if one type plays a bigger role than the other, but dark chocolate is known to have other health benefits, such as cardiovascular disease protection, because of the higher levels of antioxidants.
The findings were published in the April 26 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.