Does Depression Lead to Eating Chocolate, or Vice Versa?
Chocolate, which has been getting a lot of good press lately, took a hit recently in its long-standing reputa-tion for improving your mood. It’s not clear if chocolate combats depression, according to a new study in Archives of Internal Medicine, or if the sweet treat actually contributes to the problem.
Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, of the University of California-San Diego, and colleagues are quick to acknowledge that they can’t say which direction the cause-and-effect arrow is pointing in their study of chocolate and depression. But the find-ings are clear: People who are clinically depressed are more likely to eat chocolate, and the more depressed they are, the more they eat.
“A rich cultural tradition links chocolate consumption with putative mood benefits,” the researchers noted. They pointed out that a Google search for “chocolate” and “mood” returns more than 6 million hits. In one recent study of 3,000 people with depres-sion, half reported that chocolate made them feel better.
To find out whether chocolate really boosts your mood, however, Dr. Golomb and colleagues compared the chocolate consumption of 931 adults, none taking antidepressants, with participants’ scores on a standard test for depression. Those who screened positive for possible depres-sion consumed an average of 8.4 servings of chocolate per month, compared with 5.4 for other participants. People whose scores were even higher, reflecting prob-able major depression, consumed even more chocolate--11.8 servings per month. Findings were similar among women and men.
Several nutrient factors in choco-late that might be theorized to improve mood—such as caffeine, fat, carbohydrate and calorie intake—turned out to have no significant correlation with depression. Nor was there a difference in consumption of antioxidant-rich foods besides chocolate between the groups.
Several explanations for the findings are possible, according to Dr. Golomb and colleagues. Depression could stimulate chocolate cravings, either for actual mood benefits (as has been suggested in recent studies of rats) or unrelated reasons. Alternatively, “the possibility that chocolate could causally contribute to depressed mood, driving the association, cannot be excluded.” Or a physiological factor such as inflammation could drive bot
Dr. Golomb and colleagues called for future studies “to determine whether chocolate has a role in depression, as cause or cure.”
TO LEARN MORE: Archives of Internal Medicine, April 26, 2010; abstract atarchinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/170/8/699