Can Dark Chocolate Actually Improve Mood?

Can Dark Chocolate Actually Improve Mood?
Anil Rickhi Emergency Physician

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We all have heard the old saying that after relationships break up the guys go out to the bar to drink beer and women eat chocolate. Further, university students claim that chocolate helps them retain information more effectively. However is there any evidence to these claims or is it simply a caffeine buzz? To my surprise, specifically for chocolate  evidence shows that dark chocolate does improve mood but not cognition. 

A randomized placebo controlled trial published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology 2013; (May): 451-458 shows that mood improves with dark chocolate while it has no effect on cognition. 

The researchers found that it is what is in the dark chocolate itself which is responsible for the improvements in mood such as self related calmness and contentedness. The substance the researchers assert are Cocoa Polyphenols. In fact, a there have been self-reports levels of 500mg per day can have these beneficial effects. In the methodology of the study researchers had healthy middle aged individuals that were recruited. The exclusion criteria include most chronic health conditions and any psychiatric disorders. Cognitive performance was measured using the Cognitive Drug Research computerized assessment system. The subjects self-reported mood was measured using The Bond and Lader Visual Analogue Scales. 

All patients were randomized into three groups: Two groups received High and Medium of Cocoa polyphenols 500mg and 250mg respectively. The third group contained the placebo and all participants in this group received a sugar pill with 0 mg of Cocoa polyphenols. All participants were assessed out baseline for cognition and mood and 30 days after daily supplementation of the dark chocolate. The researchers also had all participants maintain a food diary of other foods and beverages that may contain polyphenols.

The results of the study show that the beneficial effects on mood only occurred in the high dosage group of 500 mg per day. There was no documented change in cognitive performance with any of the groups. 

It is interesting to note that the receptor in the brain that dark chocolate works is used to the modulate anxiolytic effects. So, apparently this myth does have some credibility. This may be interesting for some patients experiencing anxiety and do not want to take any pills such as Valium or Ativan but would much rather try to see if 30 days of dark chocolate works of 500 mg.

Better yet, if your parents or child is in a grumpy mood you might want to try using 500 mg of dark chocolate!

Well the methodology was of high caliber there were some errors with the study. Specifically the exclusion criteria due to psychiatric illnesses was never fully explained. Given that one and three patient seen in the physicians office suffers from some type of mental disorder which may be mild depression to acute psychotic episodes The researchers did not draw the line. We helped also bear in mind the stigma of mental illness that is so prevalent in society. If the patient feels anxious or depressed they are less likely to bring these symptoms up with her primary care physician. As a result, subjects suffering from mental illness I could have been included in the study. 

Further research needs to be done to control for these variables. It would also be interesting to see if those of 750 mg per day makes a larger difference on mood then the 500 mg per day.

One month also take into account the chocolate will initially give you a sugar high but eventually you will have A bit of a crash in blood sugar levels, possibly causing you to feel less anxious and more calm or maybe even tired.