Eating Dark Chocolate Could Help Fight Depression, New Study Finds

Dark chocolate for depression

We often think eating chocolate is bad for us, but recent research has shown that dark chocolate may actually alleviate symptoms of depression.

A recent study was the first to look at the impact of consuming different types of chocolate on depression.[1]Jackson, S.E., Smith, L., Firth, J., Grabovac, I., Sovsal, P., Koyanagi, A., Hu, L., Stubbs, B., Demurtas, J., Veronese, N., Zhu, Xiangzhu, Z. and Yang, L. (2019) Is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression? A cross-sectional survey of 13,626 US adults. Depression and Anxiety. 36(10): 987-995 A large sample of 13,626 adults were questioned about their daily chocolate consumption using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They also had their depression levels assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire. High scores on this test suggest the individual has depressive symptoms. Other factors such as lifestyle, health and diet were accounted for, so these factors did not affect the results.

People who ate any type of chocolate were found to have fewer depressive symptoms than those who didn’t eat any. Only 1.4% of participants reported dark chocolate consumption specifically, but those who did had a 70% lower chance of reporting depressive symptoms than those who had not eaten any chocolate at all. No link was found between eating other types of chocolate and depressive symptoms. This suggests that it might be dark chocolate which has the best depression-alleviating effect.

Dr Sarah Jackson from UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care said: “This study provides some evidence that consumption of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, may be associated with reduced odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms.

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But importantly, this study only looks at the correlation between eating chocolate and depression. Therefore, we cannot be sure that chocolate consumption is the cause. There could be many other reasons for this connection. For example, people might eat less chocolate when they are experiencing depressive symptoms which may explain the link between the two.

Therefore, a study involving trainee nurses went a step further and directly tested the effects of dark chocolate on depression.[2]Lua, P. L. and Wong, S. Y. (2011) Can Dark Chocolate Alleviate Anxiety, Depressive and Stress Symptoms Among Trainee Nurses? A Parallel, Open-Label Study. ASEAN Journal of Psychiatry 12(2): 1-13 Forty-seven nurses took part in the intervention study. They were randomly assigned to an intervention group or a control group. The intervention group were given dark chocolate to eat for 3 consecutive days, and the control group were given mineral water instead.

Two different anxiety and depression scales were used to test their depressive symptoms. At the start of the experiment, there was no difference in the depressive scores. But, by the end of the 3 days depressive scores were significantly reduced in the dark chocolate group. This suggests that dark chocolate may have a prominent role in improving mood. However, further investigation using similar methods is needed to test the role of dark chocolate in comparison to other types of chocolate.

Chocolate is often reported to have mood-enhancing effects and can produce a similar feeling of euphoria to that of cannabinoids which are found in cannabis. Dark chocolate specifically has a higher concentration of antioxidants which have been linked to inflammation and the onset of depression.

So, share this article along with a bar of dark chocolate with your friends and family to help them all stay happy and healthy!


Written by Dr Natalie Busby

Natalie has a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of Manchester, an MRes in Neuroscience and a B.Sc in Psychology and Biology.

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