Combat depression with no side effects
by M. M. DONALDSON
Nestled between two high chocolate holidays, Christmas and Valentine’s Day, reports of a chocolate shortage loom like a huge grey cloud. Indeed, climate and diseased crops have decreased the key commodity ingredient of chocolate confectionaries, but the largest factor in this shortage is demand outpacing the world supply of cocoa products.
Americans love chocolate. According to a 2014 report by the World Cocoa Foundation, the U.S. imported more than $1 billion of cocoa products in 2011.
Conspiracy theorists may have already discussed the possibilities of chocolate becoming a controlled substance or the cost becoming so prohibitive that people would have to choose between chocolate or food. This plagues many who rely on pharmaceutical interventions and is not a far stretch of the imagination as scientific studies have discussed self-medicating with chocolate.
The psychoactive properties of cocoa were studied by Adam Drewnowski while working at the University of Michigan in the 1980s. He concluded the psychological effects had more to do with the combination of fat and sugar used to cut the cocoa.
A psychological high was documented in “chocolate addicts” by Marion Hetherington and Jennie Macdiarmid at the University of Dundee in a couple of their studies, but the mood elevation melted as quickly as the chocolate physically did in the mouth.
There is no doubt that chocolate makes people happy, but Gordon Parker, from the University of New South Wales, and his colleagues concluded that chocolate is not an antidepressant in a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2006.
There is little to gain trying to convince people that chocolate is not an antidepressant when it gives so much joy. But as with most psychotropic substances, there are side effects.
Drewnowski, who now works for Washington State University, and other researchers have found pure cocoa did not alleviate or change any emotional status until the addition of fat and sugar. Hence lies the side effect of weight gain from extra calories that are forgotten to be counted with the daily caloric intake.
With so much chocolate marketed in small and cute portions, a Snickers Fun Size could hardly be a problem. Perhaps what researchers should be studying is how chocolate in small pieces clouds mathematical reasoning, allowing people to think three Snickers Fun Size is not the same as eating a regular size Snickers Bar, which it is.
What is really needed is a long-term psychological mood elevator with no side effects.
For several decades, research has shown that exercise causes the body to release endorphins such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, the biochemicals that regulate mood.
Numerous published studies have shown that exercise does lower depression, but to what extent is being debated. Most recently in the Journal of American Medicine Association, Gary Cooney with the Royal Edinburgh Hospital and his colleagues compiled data from multiple studies to define the link. Researcher James Blumenthal from Duke University Medical Center responded in a letter to the editor, stating that exercise lowers depression at a greater rate than what the Cooney meta-analysis concluded.
Furthermore, research published in the American Journal of Prevention Medicine (2013) by George Mammen and Guy Faulkner at the University of Toronto postulate that exercise may minimize future depression.
Clinical depression is a serious condition that requires professional care. For less serious, occasional moody days, a little chocolate can be a nice treat, but exercise can be beneficial physically as well as psychologically with no side effects.
M. M. Donaldson loves Snickers in any size, but trains for half-marathons to combat depression and the weight gain side effect of chocolate. She has a Bachelor of Science in family and community services from Michigan State University, and has several years’ experience with nutrition issues affecting infants through older adults.