Saturday, February 1, 2014

Is Chocolate a Mood Stabilizer?

Why do so many of us crave chocolate when depressed? The common sense explanation is simple emotional eating. After all, chocolate is probably the world's number one comfort food.

However, psychiatrists have traditionally identified loss of appetite with classic depression, and labeled depression with increased cravings for food as "atypical depression".

Now there is new thinking that speculates this atypical increased appetite and food cravings may not be "mental" symptoms, but instead may be an attempt by the body to rebalance itself. In other words, cravings - including the craving for chocolate - may be rooted as much in physiology as in mental or emotional health.

In a recent Australian study, the overwhelming craving of choice was for chocolate. The study participants reported that chocolate made them feel less anxious and irritable, as well as less depressed. Researchers began to suspect that the chocolate cravings were not a symptom of depression, but rather an attempt to re-balance emotions and over-all equilibrium when they did some further study into the personality types of the chocolate cravers. The group rated high on measures such as anxiety, self-criticism, irritability, sensitivity to rejection, and self-focusing.

Chocolate is surprisingly complex and contains over 350 chemicals. Some of these chemicals like tryptophan can increase serotonin - the "feel good" neurotransmitter. However, it is only present in small quantities - not enough to have a measurable effect. Also, chocolate triggers the release of endorphins and opioids, well known for creating feelings of well being. Chocolate also activates some of the same the same brain receptors as marijuana - but again this effect is very small and you could never eat enough chocolate to get "stoned" as with smoking a joint.

So does chocolate have a future as a mood stabilizer?

In summary, chocolate does have a settling effect, especially for those of us who suffer from things like anxiety and irritability. Further, it is possible that our chocolate cravings do represent a natural "healthy" attempt by our bodies to re-balance. The downside? The helpful chemicals in chocolate are present in such small amounts that the effects are only mild and are very short-lived. Compared to the mood swings, weight gain, and blood sugar disturbances caused by all the fat and sugar, any fleeting benefit is greatly outweighed in the long run.

Now THAT is depressing!

No comments:

Post a Comment