Chocolate

Our rating
 Question mark: This treatment has not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.

What is it?

Chocolate is typically found in a solid block. It is made from cocoa and sugar.

How does it work?

Cocoa contains natural products found in plants. These products may have psychological benefits when consumed.

There are several ways in which chocolate could boost mood.

  • Chocolate contains very small amounts of ingredients that might boost mood. These include:
    • natural chemicals which affect the level of certain chemical messengers in the brain (phenylethylamin);
    • stimulants (caffeine and theobromine); and
    • a natural chemical that increases feelings of pleasure (anandamine).
  • Chocolate is high in carbohydrates and low in protein. Eating foods like this can boost chemicals in the brain (such as serotonin). Serotonin is a natural chemical messenger in the brain. It is thought that increasing serotonin can be helpful in depression.
  • The taste and texture of chocolate is pleasant. Some people believe this triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in the brain which act like opiates to increase pleasure and reduce pain.

Is it effective?

The effect of chocolate on people who are clinically depressed has not been tested.

Are there any disadvantages?

Chocolate is high in saturated fats and sugar. Eating too much of this kind of food can increase the risk of heart and other disease.

Where do you get it?

Chocolate is readily available in various forms. Dark chocolate contains higher levels of cocoa.

Recommendation

Given the lack of evidence on chocolate, it cannot be recommended as a treatment for depression.

Key references

  • Bruinsma K, Taren DL. Chocolate: food or drug? Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1999; 99: 1249-1256.
  • Macdiarmid JI, Hetherington MM. Mood modulation by food: an exploration of affect and cravings in 'chocolate addicts'. British Journal of Clinical Psychology. 1995; 34: 129-138.
  • Parker G, Parker I, Brotchie H. Mood state effects of chocolate. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2006; 92(2-3):149-59.
  • Pase MP, Scholey AB, Pipingas A, Kras M, Nolidin K, Gibbs A, et al. Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2013; 27(5):451-8.
  • Rose N, Koperski S, Golomb BA. Mood food: chocolate and depressive symptoms in a cross-sectional analysis. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2010; 170(8):699-703

Last updated and reviewed: 17 February 2015