When you're feeling blue, do you have an urge for a bite of chocolate? Well, you're certainly not alone.
New research, published this week, reveals that people suffering from depressive symptoms tend to eat more chocolate than those in a happier frame of mind.
"Our study confirms long-held suspicions that eating chocolate is something that people do when they are feeling down," said the paper's co-author, Beatrice Golomb of the University of California, San Diego's school of medicine.
The study participants - a total of 931 men and women - were asked how frequently they ate chocolate. The mood of each participant was assessed using a standardized psychological questionnaire. (People taking anti-depressant drugs were excluded from the study.)
Those who showed signs of moderate depression consumed an average of 8.4 servings of chocolate a month, compared with 5.4 servings for individuals relatively free of depressive symptoms, according to the findings published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
And those who appeared to be the grips a major depression gobbled down the most chocolate - 11.8 serving a month. (One serving equalled a small chocolate bar.)
The researchers looked at other dietary patterns, including the consumption of fats, carbohydrates and total calories. Only chocolate seemed to be clearly linked to depressive episodes.
However, the study was not designed to tease out the specific psychological effects of chocolate - if any. "We can't make any inferences about whether chocolate helps or hurts depression," Dr. Golomb said in an interview. "All we can say is that, over all, people who have more depressive symptoms eat more chocolate."
Even so, that didn't stop the researchers from speculating. In their paper, they suggest several different explanations. For instance, chocolate may be a mild mood booster - so depressed people are naturally drawn to it. Or consuming chocolate may somehow contribute to the mood disorder. One shortcoming of the study is that participants were not asked what type of chocolate they ate. Chocolate ingredients can vary greatly.
It's also possible that chocolate may act like a double-edged sword - similar to alcohol - "in which there is a short-term benefit and a long-term adverse effect," Dr. Golomb said. So it may provide depressed individuals with a fleeting lift and then drop them like a rock. Maybe thinking about the effect of the extra calories on the waistline is enough to put some people into a deeper funk.