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Here's What You Need to Know About the Link Researchers Found Between Depression and Dark Chocolate

Sometimes, after a long day, grabbing a chocolate bar and relaxing on the sofa can really improve your mood. Chocolate is often reported to be mood-enhancing, by increasing the levels of endorphins released by the brain, but it is only the dark variety that is thought to have health benefits and is the better choice (because of the higher concentration of flavonoids).

“Dark chocolate also contains serotonin, an antidepressant that can elevate mood,” Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, and author of Body Kindness, told Reader’s Digest. The publication also notes that the flavanols found within dark chocolate are believed to be linked to the effect that chocolate can have on the mood. And now, a survey-based study from 2019 has suggested a possible link between the consumption of dark chocolate and reduced feelings of depression which, according to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people suffer from on a global scale.

The study in question was conducted by University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom and scientists from the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services Canada, and published in the journal, Depression & Anxiety (via Medical News Today). They used data from the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Researchers noted how medication for depression does not work for everyone, and many individuals stop taking their prescription medication within six weeks of treatment. So, could dietary interventions provide a possible solution? This is what the researchers wanted to explore by focusing on “whether chocolate truly can elevate mood in a clinically relevant way,” Medical News Today reports. Taking into account variables (such as height, weight, chronic health problems, and more) researchers focused on the effects of dark chocolate, and non-dark chocolate, and found that there was “no association between chocolate consumption and a reduction in depressive symptoms.” But the results for dark chocolate were quite different.

"[I]ndividuals who reported any dark chocolate consumption had 70 percent lower odds of reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms than those who did not report any chocolate consumption," the authors state.

The results are promising, but researchers warn further research is required. According to Science Daily, lead author, Dr. Sarah Jackson, states: “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…”

She adds: "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."

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