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Sweet cures aren’t helpful

People battling signs of major depression showed a yearning for chocolate that drove them to eat twice as much of the sweet treat as those not depressed, University of California researchers said.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 29, 2010 18:12 IST
Nicole Ostrow

While chocolate has a “rich cultural tradition” that links it to mood benefits, few scientific studies address the issue. A study found an increase in chocolate intake tied to depression, without evidence it helped. “When people feel the mood for a pick-me-up, they pick up chocolate,” said Golomb, an associate professor at the University of California. “If there is a ‘treatment benefit,’ it did not suffice to overcome the depressed mood on average,” she wrote.

While it is possible that depression may stimulate chocolate cravings to improve mood, an independent physiological factor could lead a person to feel both depression and desire for chocolate, the authors said.The scientists didn’t find any evidence of a benefit from chocolate, as it didn’t seem to help people overcome their depressed mood on average.

The study was conducted by giving questionnaires to 931 men and women who weren’t using antidepressants and who provided information on how much chocolate and other food they ate. Their average age was 57, while 70 per cent were male and 59 per cent were college graduates.

The researchers gave participants a widely used screening test for depression that rates feelings and behavior on a scale of 0 to 60. A score of 16 or higher indicated that someone had possible depression and should be evaluated for a diagnosis. A score of 22 or higher meant probable major depression.

In the study, 49 men and 20 women had depression scores in the “possible” zone, between 16 and 21, while 27 men and 15 women had scores of 22 or higher indicating major depression. Nondepressed men ate about five servings of chocolate a month, and nondepressed women had about six.

Among those with scores of 16 and higher, men consumed 7.5 servings a month and women nibbled 10.4 helpings. In those who scored in the highest group, over 22, men ate 9.4 and women had 16 servings a month.

“The findings were not explained by a general increase in caffeine, fat, carbohydrate or energy intake, suggesting that our findings are specific to chocolate,” Golomb said. Symptoms of depression are sadness, loss of interest in activities, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, and energy loss. Almost half of people diagnosed with depression don’t get help they need, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Washington Post-Bloomberg