Expert Q&A

Chocolate: Help for depression?

Why does chocolate help me when I feel depressed?

After Harry Potter confronts evil forces, the Hogwart’s medical staff restores his health with chocolate! When you’ve had a bad day or are just a little blue, having a treat can do a lot for your mood, too. Most of us really like chocolate, so naturally we feel better when we have some. But there might be more to the effect than the simple feeling of reward that comes with eating something we enjoy. 

Chocolate seems to affect levels of brain chemicals called “endocannabinoids” that are related to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. These endocannabinoids have a calming effect on brain functions in many ways. While this is only suspected so far, it might explain why chocolate helps us to feel better. 

Of course, chocolate has lots of calories from fat and the sugar needed to counter the natural bitterness of the cacao beans that make chocolate what it is. Too much chocolate and you might feel down again from all the weight you’ve gained. 

If you are deeply depressed, chocolate alone is not likely to help. The biochemical process that causes depression is too powerful to be influenced by any food. Treatment for depression is best handled by professionals. Save the chocolate for life’s smaller problems.

John Messmer, MD
Contributing Expert

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