Dark Chocolate and Depression, Are They Related? How?

Chocolate, the ultimate temptation, the guilty pleasure we all, big or small, indulge in from time to time. But is chocolate really that bad for us? According to medical research, the jury is still out on chocolate, with some recent research drawing a correlation between depression and chocolate, suggesting that dark chocolate may actually be beneficial for depressed individuals. Why is that, are we all just big kids, our eyes lighting up immediately after seeing the sweet treat, or is there something more to the story?

Is Chocolate Healthy or Not?

dark chocolate kid eating ice cream
Chocolate is one of those foods that the vast majority of people like. We enjoy our chocolate pure, melted, or as an ingredient in many desserts, such as ice cream, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and countless more… Some of us love our chocolate dark, while others fancy milk chocolate or even white chocolate, which isn’t chocolate at all. In fact, we love chocolate so much that all this chocolate talk has got my stomach rumbling, and I know I’m not alone.
Still, we typically try to have the tasty treat in moderation, as we’re told that it’s bad for our health and contains way too much sugar, which can hurt our teeth, cause acne and be bad for our brains, digestive organs and cardiovascular system. From time to time, a new reassuring research article pops up, claiming that chocolate is actually beneficial for our health, after all, which creates a great deal of confusion.
The one mutual conclusion in the research is that dark chocolate is much better for us that milk chocolate, as it contains a lot less sugar and additives and is more concentrated in antioxidants and other active beneficial ingredients.

How Exactly Can Dark Chocolate Benefit My Health?

Dark chocolate has several health benefits, namely an anti-inflammatory effect, as well as a favorable effect on our cardiovascular system and skin. Still, the largest evidence base for the beneficial effects of dark chocolate is in the realm of mental health, with numerous studies arguing the treat has mood-boosting and anti-stress properties.
Continuing this tendency is a large UK-based survey study that made a bold conclusion: one’s risks of being depressed are cut by more than half if you eat a lot of dark chocolate. The study processed surveys from 13.626 adult participants of a mean age of 46 years, who reported twice on their history of depressive symptoms, chocolate-eating habits and countless other variables that were used to exclude any confounds of the study.
dark chocolate cubed
The study concluded that the participants who ate more than 104 g (3.6 oz) of dark chocolate a day had a 57% lower chance of experiencing depressive symptoms than those who didn’t eat any chocolate at all. The authors list several reasons why dark chocolate may be so beneficial to depression sufferers:

1. Chocolate has several psychoactive ingredients that may make a person experience pleasure. Most notably, it’s rich in phenylethylamine, a neuromodulator that may play a role in regulating our mood and its lack has been implicated as a contributor to depression.

2. As a tasty treat, chocolate may activate the reward system in our brain and improve our mood through increasing the level of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins in the brain. Abnormal levels of these neurotransmitters are believed to be among the leading causes of depression, and so, for people suffering from deficiency, chocolate may serve to raise their levels of neurotransmitters.

dark chocolate child eating a chocolate cupcake
3. The rich antioxidant profile of dark chocolate may have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Inflammation, in turn, has been found to contribute to depression.

The authors don’t exclude that a few factors may contribute to the positive impact of chocolate on depression, too. Should you run out to the store to buy some dark chocolate and start eating it every day, then? Probably not, as the authors of the study do point out that the number of participants that ate moderate and low amounts of dark chocolate was lacking, and the participants that did eat dark chocolate mainly ate it in excessive quantities.

Apart from that, the study relied on self-reported data, which should always be taken with a grain of salt. Thus, we still recommend eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate, even if you need an emergency mood lift. The good news is, however, that dark chocolate is not the enemy it’s often made out to be, so we can indulge our chocolate craving without the guilt from time to time.

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