Eating Dark Chocolate May Improve Mood — And Reduce Symptoms of Depression

Science suggests it's no longer a guilty pleasure — in fact, it may be a new approach to mental health.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
March 11, 2020

At the risk of sounding too much like a Cathy cartoon, I’m a big fan of chocolate — the darker the better. And while the confection has gained a reputation as both a comfort food for sad women and an aphrodisiac, new research out of University College London (UCL) shows it could serve another function: boosting our mood and reducing the symptoms of depression.

This study — which yes, sounds too good to be true — was the first first to look at the association between depression and eating different types of chocolate. Using data from 13,626 adults in the United States, the researchers analyzed participants’ chocolate consumption and depressive symptoms. They also adjusted for a range of other factors including height, weight, marital status, ethnicity, education, household income, physical activity, smoking and chronic health problems to ensure the study only measured chocolate’s effect on symptoms of depression. 

The research, published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, found that those who reported eating any dark chocolate in two 24-hour periods had 70 percent lower odds of reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms, compared to participants who reported not eating chocolate at all.

“However further research is required to clarify the direction of causation — it could be the case that depression causes people to lose their interest in eating chocolate, or there could be other factors that make people both less likely to eat dark chocolate and to be depressed,” Sarah Jackson, Ph.D., a researcher at the UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Should a causal relationship demonstrating a protective effect of chocolate consumption on depressive symptoms be established, the biological mechanism needs to be understood to determine the type and amount of chocolate consumption for optimal depression prevention and management.”

While this isn’t carte blanche for eating as much chocolate as you want, it’s promising to see research looking into food-based treatments for depression — especially ones that are so tasty.

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

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This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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