Apparently, chocolate can affect mood so well that it reduces the risk of depression. However, it must be a very specific type of chocolate.
Can Chocolate Help With Depression?
In April 2010, Der Spiegel wrote, “Depressed people eat more chocolate. What role does chocolate play in depression? A study has now shown that depressed people have a greatly increased consumption of chocolate. Researchers are puzzled as to whether the candy causes or prevents the disease”.
Almost ten years later, a study by University College London was published in the journal Depression and Anxiety in July 2019, which found the exact opposite, namely that happy people eat more chocolate and depressed people hardly at all.
It is also the first study to look at how different types of chocolate may affect depression, the researchers said. Because the risk of depression drops noticeably when you eat chocolate, but only with a very specific type.
Those who eat dark chocolate are less likely to have depression
The researchers analyzed data from 13,626 adults from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination study regarding chocolate consumption and the participants’ mental status. Other possible influences on mood were taken into account, such as education, exercise, income, weight, smoking, and chronic health conditions – to ensure that only the effect of the chocolate could be recognized.
In the group that never ate chocolate, 7.6 percent of respondents suffered from depression. In the milk chocolate group, it was only slightly less, namely 6.2 percent. But of those who ate dark chocolate, only 1.5 percent were depressed. Their risk of developing depression was 70 percent lower than those who didn’t like chocolate. It obviously depends a lot on what kind of chocolate you prefer.
The more chocolate, the lower the risk of depression
But even if you threw all types of chocolate in one pot, the chocolate eaters were still – mentally speaking – significantly better off, with the risk of depression being lower the more chocolate was eaten. The heavy eaters (100 to 450 g of chocolate per day) had a 57 percent lower risk of depression.
It was interesting that those who chose dark chocolate appeared to be more health conscious overall. They were mostly of normal weight and very rarely smoked. Since dark chocolate has only slightly fewer calories (approx. 500 kcal) than milk chocolate (approx. 535 kcal), eating chocolate does not necessarily mean that you have to gain weight from it. It always depends on the overall way of life.
Maybe depressed people just don’t feel like eating chocolate?
Study leader Sarah Jackson points out:
“The exact reason for the apparently protective effect of chocolate consumption still has to be investigated.” Finally, it could also be the case that depressed people simply no longer feel like eating chocolate and were therefore less depressed in the chocolate eater group.
“Should it actually be shown that chocolate can alleviate depressive symptoms, then the mechanisms of action would have to be researched and, of course, the required amount of chocolate that is needed to prevent or treat depression,”
How exactly does chocolate protect against depression?
So far, it has been assumed that it is not the chocolate itself that works, but the cocoa in it. Because it contains a number of psychoactive substances that can cause euphoric feelings – much like cannabis. It also contains phenylethylamine, a substance that boosts mood and can also be produced by the body itself – in particularly high amounts when we are in love.
In addition, the cocoa-specific flavonoids have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect – and especially in the case of depression (as with many chronic diseases) there are chronic inflammatory processes that could now be fought with the help of the flavonoids.
Contrary to some statements, chocolate does not contain serotonin. Chocolate does provide tryptophan, but in negligible amounts, so this cannot be a reason for the antidepressant effect of chocolate.
But according to some researchers, the effect of a pure placebo effect is also conceivable. After all, most people associate chocolate with happy childhood memories, so the taste of chocolate alone could unconsciously have a mood-enhancing effect on these memories.
Should we now eat chocolate instead of taking antidepressants?
Antidepressants are still frequently prescribed, but very often do not work, which means that many patients stop taking the medication on their own (and are disappointed) after 6 weeks at the latest. New ways are therefore required. Chocolate alone is certainly not the way to the goal, especially since – according to the study above – you would have to eat a lot of it. But maybe our holistic concept can help you with depression.
And if you want to snack on chocolate regularly, go for organic chocolate with the highest possible cocoa content and the lowest possible sugar content. If your chocolate also contains alternative sweeteners (xylitol, coconut blossom sugar, yacon, lucuma, etc.), all the better.