The review – published in the Journal of Functional Foods – concludes that while there are many studies to show that flavanols “can have a marked impact on mood,” there are not enough well conducted trials to show the compounds have a positive influence on mood and mood disorders.
“Today, we know far too little about effects of flavanol-rich cocoa-derived products in the brain to fully describe their actions on mood disorders,” writes review author by Donald Smith from Aarhus University, Denmark.
Smith argues that while caution must be exercised concerning the use of ‘untraditional remedies’ in mood disorders, “it would be of interest to determine whether flavanol-rich cocoa-derived products are beneficial as dietary supplements in the prevention and/or treatment of human mood disorders.”
“To learn how such a study might be carried out, we can consider reports on beneficial effects of flavanol-rich cocoa-derived products in heart disease, a condition closely linked with depressive disorders,
“Perhaps daily intake of appropriate amounts of flavanol-rich cocoa-derived products can benefit both cardiovascular function and mental well-being,” he suggests.
Chocolate has attracted much attention in psychological science, Smith notes.
The reviewer says that cocoa contains particularly high quantities of phenolic phytochemicals known as flavanols (flavan-3-ols) – the bioavailability of which depends on numerous factors, including digestive release, absorption, metabolism, and elimination.
“Studies carried out in laboratory animals have also shown chocolate to be a strongly rewarding substance, since they will work very hard to obtain it,” the new review says – noting that ‘psychological factors’ appear to have a marked influence on chocolate consumption.
The reviewer explains previous research has shown that flavanols have direct effects on cerebral blood flow: “Brain scanning of subjects that taste chocolate have revealed enhanced blood flow in regions such as the thalamus, which are often associated with antidepressant actions.”
However Smith states that in the present time “we know far too little about effects of flavanol-rich cocoa-derived products in the brain to fully describe their actions on mood disorders.”
Source: Journal of Functional Foods
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.jff.2012.09.002
“Benefits of flavanol-rich cocoa-derived products for mental well-being: A review”
Author: Donald F. Smith