Chocolate against Stress and Depression

Researchers have found that chocolate can make some people who are prone to depression less anxious and less irritable. There is a downside, as the chocolate is laden with fat and sugar. Several recent studies provided the scientific background to the common knowledge that chocolate has a definite upside as an anti-depressant.

A study of 3,000 people by the Black Dog Institute found 45 per cent of people with depression craved chocolate. "Of those 45 per cent, 60 per cent found that the chocolate improved their mood when they were depressed," Joanne Crawford, study co-author said.

Researchers found that among the depressed, those who were anxious or worriers were more likely to benefit from the sweet treats. They believe it is the endorphins and opoids in chocolate which make people feel more relaxed. "The opoids are morphine-like and lower pain and that also flows through into mental wellbeing," Professor Gordon Parker from the Black Dog Institute said.

Swimming star John Konrads battled depression, often turning to chocolate when he felt low. "I thought it was a pick-me-up, almost like a cup of coffee, but to hear that it's a soother makes sense to me with hindsight," he said.

While it is too early for doctors to start prescribing chocolate for depression, this study does prove that it has tangible benefits in fighting mood disorders. "I think this will be reassuring to many people who will say this just merely confirms what I have found out over the years," Professor Parker said.

The only caveat is that even as an anti-depressant, when it comes to chocolate, moderation is the key.

Another study showed  that 40 grams of dark chocolate per day reduces the urinary excretion of the stress hormone cortisol and it almost normalizes the stress related differences in energy metabolism and gut microbial activities between participants with low and high anxiety traits. Already after one week metabolic changes were evident in the metabolic profiles of participants compared to the baseline analyses. This became more significant after two weeks of dark chocolate at 40 grams per day. The metabolic changes in both endogenous and gut microbial metabolism were evident.

Comparing the groups with low and high anxiety traits revealed a decreased level of urinary stress hormone levels in the participants with high level trait anxiety after two weeks of dark chocolate. This study strongly suggests potential beneficial implications of dark chocolate consumption for reduction of mental and/or physical stress and improvement of the metabolic response to stress. 

How Can Chocolate Really Help Depression Symptoms?

The carbohydrates in chocolate increase neurotransmitters, such as: serotonin, dopamine and phenylethylamine, which alleviate depression, and give general feelings of well-being. Cocoa also contains M A O inhibitors (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) which help prolong the benefits of neurotransmitters. Cocoa also raises endorphins, which increase pleasure and lessen pain.

The vitamins found in cocoa are:
- Vitamins B1,2,3,5, and 11 which, in conjunction with other vitamins, help release energy from food, and aid the formation of the body's defenses.
- Vitamin D which helps the uptake of calcium and phosphorus, good for teeth and bones.
- Vitamin E has antioxidant properties, helps build muscle, and promotes the production of red blood cells, and protects cell walls.

All these benefits come from pure cocoa, or dark chocolate, the higher cocoa percentage, the better. Chocolate with 80% cocoa, or higher, is perfect. Though of course, the higher the cocoa percentage, the more bitter the taste.

This pure chocolate, and Cocoa itself, will give you all these benefits. Although to the real chocolate lover, even milk chocolate will give them a good feeling. Just its texture, the smooth silkiness in the mouth, will give feelings of pleasure.

Limitations

Most of the studies concluded that the chocolate’s advantages on mood are thought to be short-lived, a momentary band-aid to a bigger difficulty. While chocolate may lift up your mood at first, it rapidly wears off. So, be careful to increase your dose to get the better anti-depressant effect. Otherwise, the positive influence of this “happy food” can be converted for the significant harm to your health.

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