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Study; Chocolate not a fix for depression

By HBC Protocols May 11, 2006 0 comments

The “high” is too short lived to make a difference.
According to the study by Gordon Parker at the University of New South Wales in Australia, the lift one gets from eating chocolate is no greater than that from eating any other carbohydrate. There is no evidence that eating chocolate removes feelings of depression, the scientist found. The mood-boosting benefits of chocolate pass as quickly as the experience of eating it Published in the Journal of Affective Disorders the study reviewed all the research findings ever produced on the relationship between chocolate and mood.

On the other hand, although people crave chocolate, it does not induce as severe a chemical addiction as alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. Janet Polivy, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto says. Professor Polivy deprived patients of either chocolate or vanilla, and found that the chocholate group had a much harder time dealing with its absence than the vanilla group. Her study was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. “Chocolate is the most craved food,” she said. “It does seem to be something special. But there is little evidence that it alters neurotransmitters or mood.”

Chocolate may deepen depression

Chocoholics can happily eat chocolate for pleasure but for those who are stressed and clinically depressed, the high is short-lived and chocolate may even deepen the downer, a review shows. The findings, which will be published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, fly in the face of the myth that chocolate is an antidepressant. The analysis, which is the most comprehensive literature review on how chocolate affects mood, shows that the motivation behind eating chocolate determines which neurotransmitters are activated, and hence your mood.

The review’s Australian authors, from the Black Dog Institute at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, identified two groups of chocolate eaters based on motivation. They are cravers, who eat chocolate as an indulgent pleasure, and emotional eaters, who use chocolate in a bid to alleviate depression. Professor Gordon Parker, the executive director of the Black Dog Institute and lead author, says cravers see chocolate like a good glass of wine, and anticipating and eating the treat releases ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters. “Chocolate craving as an indulgent pleasure seems to stimulate the dopamine system in the brain, and provides an enjoyable experience,” he said. “But the emotional eaters, people who eat chocolate to relieve boredom, stress or clinical depression, are looking for an opioid effect to improve their mood.”

He says for them, at best chocolate only provides temporary relief. But this is quickly followed by a return to or a worsening of their earlier negative state.

Opiate effect

Consuming sweet foods is thought to release the neurotransmitter beta-endorphin in the hypothalamus, which is said to have an opiate effect on the body. But why the chocolate high is so transient and insufficient to sustain mood in those who eat it for emotional reasons remains unknown. The theory that chocolate acts as an antidepressant comes from the common belief that a serotonin deficiency causes chocolate cravings, but the review has found no support for this hypothesis. “It is true that chocolate acts on the same neurological system as serotonin,” Professor Parker said. “But you’d have to eat a truck load of chocolate before you have had the equivalent of one antidepressant tablet. “Our review rejects any possibility that chocolate desired as a way of relieving stress or when feeling down has any antidepressant benefit.”

The review says stimulants such as caffeine, theobromine, tyramine and phenylethylamine, are also present in concentrations too low to have any significant psychoactive effect.

ABC Science Online Alex Wilde

Chocolate craving. Which sex has stronger craving?

Rozin P, Levine E, Stoess C.

Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104-6196.

Liking and craving for chocolate and related substances were surveyed in a sample of University of Pennsylvania undergraduates (n = 249) and their parents (n = 319). Chocolate was highly liked in all groups, with a stronger liking by females. Chocolate is the most craved food among females, and is craved by almost half of the female sample (in both age groups). Although this craving is related to a sweet craving, it cannot be accounted for as a craving for sweets. About half of the female cravers show a very well defined craving peak for chocolate in the perimenstrual period, beginning from a few days before the onset of menses and extending into the first few days of menses. There is not a significant relation in chocolate craving or liking between parents and their children. The current motivation for chocolate preference seems to be primarily, if not entirely, sensory. Liking for chocolate correlates significantly with liking for sweets and white chocolate. The liking for the sensory properties could originate in innate or acquired liking based on the sweetness, texture and aroma of chocolate, or it could be based in part on interactions between the postingestional effects of chocolate and a person’s state (e.g., mood, hormone levels). Based on correlational data, we find little evidence for a relation between addiction to chocolate or the pharmacological (e.g., xanthine-based) effects of chocolate and the liking for chocolate.


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