New Year's Resolution - Eat Chocolate! Or Maybe Not...

Long time readers may know of my over-a-decade-long effort to get the sugar monkey off my back. I can report that I am reasonably  successful. I don't know if it has made an ongoing difference to my mood. But a shared dessert at a restaurant will get my arthritic shoulder burning. So I keep it up.

Or maybe I have taken it too far. It's all about costs and benefits, you know. And recent research suggests maybe I should lighten up, or rather, darken up.

Chris Aiken of Bipolar Not So Much fame, also Wake Forest University School of Medicine and The Carlat Psychiatry Report, says to my sugar fast, Not so fast. At least as far as dark chocolate goes.

Dark chocolate lowers the risk of depression, according to a cross-sectional survey of over 13,000 US adults. The study compared self-reported chocolate consumption with self-reported depressive symptoms, as measured by the PHQ-9. People who ate dark chocolate in the past 24 hours were 70% less likely to report depression.

The effect was seen in dark chocolate consumers (at least 45% cocoa) not milk chocolate, and optimum benefit was in the 1-2 ounce daily range.

Aiken lists several components of chocolate that might explain these results:

1. Flavanols. These brain-protecting nutrients are particularly prominent in dark chocolate. They are also found in red wine, berries, apples, citrus, and green and black teas, all foods that are associated with improvements in mood and cognition.

2. Caffeine and theobromine. These adenosine-agonists have rapid effects on energy and cognition. Cocoa is the main source of theobromine, while caffeine is found in many foods.

3. N-acylethanolamines.  This fatty acid is an analogue of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid with anxiolytic and euphoric effects.

4. Phyenylethylamine. A natural monoamine that increases the release of norepinephrine, dopamine, and acetylcholine.

Aiken adds, Chocolate is one of life's pleasures, and pleasant feelings help pave the way out of depression. They give rise to altruism, creative problem solving, and social engagement.

Great, huh!?


Not so fast.

Oh, Chris. You are usually my hero. What, were you pressed for time to get something holiday-themed posted? I know that temptation.

Readers, here is the link to the original report again. Read the method. Cross-section of people who recorded their food consumption and also their depressive symptoms. Not a clinical study. Not one group that ate chocolate and a similarly matched group that did not.

I have one question in three words. Causation or correlation?

Let me unpack that. Who eats dark chocolate? They were 1.4% of the participants. Are these 1.4%ers the same sort of people as the 98.6%? Do they have similar life circumstances? Similar economic status? Similar attitudes to their health and access to health care? Or are they people with more than the average access to choices? Like, can you even find dark chocolate in some neighborhoods where you would expect to find a higher level of untreated depression?

Another study recently informed us that people who go to the opera have less depression than the rest of us. Oh, really.

Does eating dark chocolate cause you to have less depression? Or do the people who eat dark chocolate have lives and life styles that are less depressing? That's what my question means, Cause or correlation? Ya gotta watch out for these logic issues in reports that you want to believe because you like the results.

On the other hand, the wizarding world may have studies that they haven't reported in muggles' journals. If you have been attacked by dementors, it couldn't hurt.

PS: Read that list of components again, flavanols, etc. There are other nutritional sources with positive brain effects and without side effects of migraine, insomnia, dental problems and kidney stones.

PPS: Read that book by Aiken.
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