May 3, 2010 ”” A new cross-sectional study suggests individuals with depressive symptoms eat more chocolate, but it does not explain why.
“There is a lot of lore about chocolate and depression and precious little in the way of scientific evidence, which is what motivated us to do this study,” Beatrice A. Golomb, MD, PhD, of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego, told Medscape Psychiatry.
The study, published in the April 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, included 931 adults not using antidepressants. The mean age of study subjects was 57.6 years and mean body mass index was 27.8 kg/m2 or less; 70.1% were male, 80.4% were white, and 58.8% were college educated. Subjects provided information on chocolate consumption (frequency and amount) and completed the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale.
Subjects who screened positive for depression, defined as a CES-D score of 16 or higher, reported consuming significantly more chocolate than those not screening positive for depression (8.4 vs 5.4 servings per month; P = .004).
Those with CES-D scores of 22 or greater, indicating probable major depression, consumed 11.8 servings of chocolate per month (P value for trend < .01). These associations were evident for men and women.
According to the researchers, several nutrient factors that could be linked to mood, such as increased caffeine, fat, carbohydrate, or energy intake, bore no significant correlation with mood symptoms, suggesting relative specificity of the chocolate finding.
“The study,” Dr. Golomb emphasized, “does not address the issue of whether chocolate is beneficial or harmful in terms of mood, as this is an observational and cross-sectional study.”
“A lot of people perceive that they get a mood lift when they eat chocolate; whether that’s true or whether that’s short lived, which is why people with higher depression scores are still seen as eating more chocolate,” is unclear, Dr. Golomb said.
There was no evidence in the study that chocolate had a sustained benefit on mood. “In our sample, if there is a ‘treatment benefit,’ it did not suffice to overcome the depressed mood on average,” she and colleagues note in their report.
Future prospective studies are needed to elucidate the foundation of the chocolate-mood association and determine whether chocolate has a role in depression “as a cause or cure,” they conclude.
Commenting on the findings, Gordon Parker, MD, PhD, of the School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Australia, who was not involved in the study, said people who crave chocolate and judge it as beneficial when depressed may be “more likely to have certain personality styles.” These personality styles that underpin chocolate cravings reflect “neuroticism or what we would call emotional dysregulation.”
“Thus, rather than view chocolate craving as a symptom, it may well be an attempt by individuals who are emotionally dysregulated to reset their ”˜mood state,’ and then this invites the question as to what are the components in chocolate that might settle emotional dysregulation.”
Dr. Golomb and Dr. Parker have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
Arch Intern Med. 2010;170:699-703.