New research from the University College London (UCL), UK and University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services, Canada, has shown that there might be a link between dark chocolate consumption and depression. Infact, not only does dark chocolate combats depression, but it also can be beneficial for other cardio-metabolic disorders like cardiovascular health, diabetes, and stroke.
More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, according to the data from the World Health Organization (WHO). This research could help provide other options for treating and preventing clinical depression.
The conventional method of treatment of depression includes talking therapies and antidepressant medication. However, most doctors find that currently talking therapies are often overprescribed and thus, medication is used for treatment.
Yet, the limitation with medication is that apart from having an array of side-effects, antidepressant medication has a low rate of patient compliance. Many people stop taking antidepressant medication 6 weeks after the beginning of treatment. For this reason, alternative therapy and lifestyle interventions can play a significant role in the treatment and prevention of depression.
How can chocolate have a positive effect on health?
Chocolate is rich in psychoactive ingredients, with analogues of anandamide, which produce an effect similar to cannabinoid. Cannabis has mood-enhancing properties that can help produce a feeling of euphoria and produce endorphins. Moreover, chocolate contains several endogenous biogenic amines and phenylethylamine, which is a neuromodulator that’s necessary for regulating people’s moods.
However, research shows that for these mood improvements to be appreciated, it is important that the experience of eating chocolate is enjoyed, and the ingredients not be merely consumed. Moreover, the type of chocolate consumed also matters. While the aforementioned benefits are true for all chocolates, it is the dark chocolate that is rich in flavonoids and has a higher concentration of antioxidants. The consumption of dark chocolate has shown to improve inflammatory mediators that play a vital role in the onset of depression.
What does research say?
Researchers from the UK and Canada assessed people using data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. These people were given the Patient Health Questionnaire to check for depressive symptoms and mental health disorders.
From dietary recalls, it was found that people who had consumed dark chocolate in the previous 24 hours had 70 percent lower odds of reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms as compared to people who did not have any form of dark chocolate. However, researchers found that consumption of non-dark chocolate did not have any significant effect on mental health symptoms.
It was a cross-sectional study in which a range of factors including height, weight, household income, smoking, physical activity and other chronic health problems were taken into account.
Further research is needed to clarify the direction of causation of depression and find a contributory relationship. This could help to understand what type and amount of chocolate consumption will help in depression prevention and management. Moreover, it should be remembered that dark chocolate consumption can only be used as an adjunct to therapy and staying healthy, and not as the mainstay of treatment.
Other studies that link diet with depression:
Other studies show that fruits and vegetable-based diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet can play a significant role in preventing depression. Published in the Journal of American Medical Association, a large clinical trial was conducted to study the effect of nutrition on major depressive disorder. The study concluded that the Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fish, pulses, olive oil, and fruits can reduce the risk of developing depression.
It is even more beneficial in people who are obese, who can lose weight with this diet and have a reduction in depressive symptoms. The researchers who conducted this study focused on patient who had a higher risk of developing clinical depression as opposed to people who already had depression.
The effect of food on mental health is corroborated by psychiatrists as well. Peter Burn, from the UK-based Royal College of Psychiatrists, states that people with a healthy lifestyle have a significantly lower risk of developing depression than people who do not eat healthy foods.
However, the effect of other factors such as poverty, social isolation and childhood experiences increases not only the incidence of depression but also the consumption of unhealthy diet and obesity.
Infact, after removal of all these factors there is still a higher prevalence of depression among the obese and overweight patients. More research is needed to isolate the cause and effect of diet on mental health and depression.
A mixture of a healthy lifestyle, alternative therapy, and tailored treatment can help improve the symptoms of depression in patients.
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