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30 April 2010

Depressed People Eat More Chocolate

You might eat chocolate because, well, you think it tastes darn good. But a new study, which finds a connection between eating chocolate and being depressed, raises questions about why people turn to the tasty treat.

The results show that people who score high on a screening test for depression consume more chocolate than those who aren't considered depressed.

The connection to mood appears to be specific to chocolate — there was no association between depression and other food components that might affect mood, such as caffeine, fat, carbohydrates and energy intake (all contained in chocolate), the researchers say.

"Our study confirms long-held suspicions that eating chocolate is something that people do when they are feeling down," study researcher Beatrice Golomb, a professor at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said in a statement.

However, the study only points out that there is a link, and cannot explain why. Since the participants were not followed over time, the researchers don't know whether eating chocolate ameliorates or amplifies a sad mood. The possibilities are many — from using chocolate as a sort of natural Prozac to the idea that chocolate might have some role in driving depression.

The results will be published April 26 in Archives of Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association.

More depressed, more chocolate

While eating chocolate is commonly thought to lead to changes in mood, few studies have actually looked to see whether there really is an association.

The current study included around 930 people, about 70 percent men and 30 percent women, who were not taking antidepressants. The participants completed a depression screening survey and answered questions related to their chocolate consumption (The subjects were actually being screened to take part in a separate study looking at ways to lower cholesterol levels).

Those with scores that indicated they were possibly depressed ate an average of 8.4 one-ounce servings of chocolate per month, while those with lower scores ate an average of 5.4 servings per month. And those with the highest scores, possibly an indication of major depression, ate an average of 11.8 servings per month. For comparison, a Hershey's chocolate bar is 1.55 ounces.

An antidepressant?

Several hypotheses might explain the results, but all are speculative at this point.

If chocolate really does boost mood, people who are depressed might eat chocolate as a self-treatment for their depression. Chocolate does contain ingredients that can act as stimulants, which are known to elevate mood. However, these ingredients are present at quite low concentrations, which some feel are too low to cause an effect. Also, chocolate ingredients may boost production of "pleasure hormones" such as serotonin.
Ingredients in chocolate could cause inflammation in the body, which might be responsible for both chocolate cravings and depression.
While chocolate itself might cause a mood boost, certain other ingredients added to chocolate during production, such as artificial trans fats, could worsen mood and so balance out or even reverse the mood benefits, the researcher say.
Future studies are needed to determine how chocolate affects mood, and whether or not chocolate directly influences depression.

29 April 2010

Omega 3s may help cut colon cancer risk

Studies in animals and a couple of small trials in people suggest that fish oil supplementation can fight inflammation and may have cancer-fighting properties, Dr. Sangmi Kim of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and colleagues note. But so far studies looking at the diets of larger groups of people have had equivocal results.

To investigate further, Kim and colleagues examined the relationship between polyunsaturated fatty acid intake and bowel cancer risk in 1,503 whites (including 716 colon cancer patients and 787 healthy controls) and 369 African Americans (213 with colon cancer, 156 controls).

Among whites, the researchers found, those in the top fourth based on their omega-3 consumption had half the risk of colon cancer compared to those in the bottom fourth.

When the researchers looked separately at the two main fatty acids contained in fish oil --eicosapentaenoic acids and docosahexaenoic acids -- they found risk also fell with increasing intake.

When the researchers looked at whites and blacks together, they also found a reduced risk of colon cancer with increasing omega 3 intake; separate analysis of the black study participants didn't find this relationship.

They also found that people who consumed more omega-6 fatty acids in relation to omega-3s were more likely to have colon cancer, although omega-6 intake in and of itself didn't affect risk.

In addition to fish oils, omega-3 fatty acid sources include seed oils, such as walnut oil and flax-seed oils, and leafy green vegetables. People in the US typically eat more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s; top sources include palm oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil.

The researchers also found an "unexpected" association between higher omega-3 intake and colon cancer in African-Americans, but urged caution in interpreting this finding, which they say "may have been due to chance." Nevertheless, they conclude, "whether the possible benefit from this dietary modification varies by race warrants further evaluation."