In the study, researchers from the University of California (Davis and San Diego campuses) asked 931 men and women who were not taking antidepressants how much chocolate they consumed and assessed their moods using a standard screening tool for depression, known as the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D). Participants who screened positive for possible depression consumed an average of 8.4 servings (1 serving is equal to 1 small bar) of chocolate or more per month, compared with 5.4 servings among those who did not screen positive for depression. Those with higher depression scores ate even more chocolate—11.8 servings per month.Does this mean chocolate is causing people to be more depressed or that participants ate more chocolate because they were depressed? Researchers aren’t sure. They suggest depressed people might be self-medicating with chocolate, that is, if chocolate leads to mood benefits as it has been found to in studies with rats. People with depression are known to have changes in appetite, although researchers found no significant connection between the depressed participants and consumption of caffeine, carbs, fats, and other foods. Researchers also say depression may stimulate chocolate cravings for reasons unrelated to mood. Other explanations include the possibility that chocolate could contribute to a depressed mood; a physiological factor such as inflammation could trigger both depression and chocolate cravings; or chocolate could have mood-elevating benefits but artificial trans fats (which inhibit omega-3 fatty acid production) with expected mood worsening consequences) might neutralize or reverse such benefits.
With all these "maybes," what are we to make of this chocolate-depression association? Well, until further studies can confirm or deny the findings, there’s no need to throw out your chocolate stash. Other research has linked dark chocolate to a few health benefits, including cancer and heart disease prevention and lower stress levels. Still, because many of those studies were funded by chocolate manufacturers, the findings aren’t definitive. But let’s face it, if millions of us chocolate-lovers were told to forgo chocolate in the name of fending off depression, it might just have the opposite effect.