06 September 2019

Depressed? Try Dark Chocolate

Chocolate KISSes for you (from
Welcome back. Are you feeling down? This will cheer you up. There’s a recent study that provides evidence that eating chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, might lower the risk of clinically relevant depressive symptoms.

The study was conducted by an international team led by a researcher with University College London. Here’s what they did.

The Study’s Data
All data were taken from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Since 1999, NHANES has surveyed a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population in 2-year cycles. The survey includes an interview (demographic, socioeconomic, dietary and health-related questions) and a physical exam (medical, dental, physiological measurements and lab tests).

National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
(from video www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmnN2r5J0YA 4:02 mins).
The researchers analyzed participants’ data from five survey cycles, 2007–08 to 2013–14, including data only from non-diabetic adults age 20 and older.

Data on chocolate consumption was from the participants’ recall of what they had eaten over two 24-hr periods.

The measure of clinically relevant depressive symptoms was from the Patient Health Questionnaire, completed by each participant.

Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9)
(from www.cqaimh.org/pdf/tool_phq9.pdf).
Data Analysis
The researchers used statistical models (multivariate logistic regression) to evaluate the association of chocolate consumption with clinically relevant depressive symptoms.

Of the 13,626 participants included in the final analysis (average age 46.5 years, 52% female), 11.1% reported eating chocolate and 1.4% reported eating dark chocolate.

All models were adjusted for socio-demographic factors (age, sex, marital status, education level, household income), weight status, lifestyle factors (leisure-time physical activity, smoking status, alcohol intake, total energy intake) and chronic conditions. Models were constructed with and without total sugar intake to assess whether the adjustment for sugar consumption may lead to over-adjustment.

Dark Chocolate Wins
With the adjustments, the models showed participants who reported eating dark chocolate had significantly lower odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms than did those who reported no chocolate consumption. In contrast, non-dark chocolate consumption was not significantly associated with depressive symptoms.

The analyses also showed a significant association with the amount of chocolate consumed. Participants who reported eating the largest amounts of chocolate had 57% lower odds of depressive symptoms than did those who reported no chocolate consumption.

Wrap Up
The researchers point out that their results are in line with other experimental studies. Most have shown at least short-term benefits of chocolate for mood.

As for studies that found no relation with chocolate, they suggest the different outcomes might relate to their adjustments of socio-demographic and other factors, though it could just relate to the different populations studied.

I’ll offer another possible reason for differences. In my long-ago blog post, Chocolate for Health, I wrote that, while dark chocolate was the way to go, one shouldn’t expect too much. The key ingredients then thought to proffer health benefits (flavonoids and other polyphenols) are generally destroyed in processing commercial chocolate. Some amount may get through, of course, and likely there’s more involved.

In any case, enjoy your chocolate, be happy and thanks for stopping by.

Study on chocolate and depression in Depression & Anxiety journal: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/da.22950
Article on study on Healio Primary Care website:
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey: www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/about_nhanes.htm
Recall of dietary intake surveyed by USDA Automated Multiple-Pass Method:
Example of study that concluded chocolate consumption has no effect on depression: www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614(18)30204-8/fulltext

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