A new study has linked chocolate with depression once again. The article merely tells us what our intuition already knew, and the fact that chocolate makes us feel better at some point in our lives isn't exactly news. But how does chocolate make us feel better? Why? What's the reason we tend to crave chocolate more during PMS? The article was so unbelievably incomplete that I felt compelled to provide additional information.
The researchers hum and haw about the correlation and the possible reasons for it. It's not like we haven't figured this one out yet. Dr. Joel Robertson, the world renowned expert on neurotransmitter health, figured all of this out a long time ago. He clea
rly explains the effect of chocolate on our brain and neurotransmitters in his books published in like, 1980 or something.
So here it is.....the article reports that chocolate raises our levels of serotonin, which is only half of the story. Chocolate increases both serotonin and dopamine, fills endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, and gives us a little caffeine boost to boot.
Antidepressant meds usually boost serotonin levels alone, though a few increase both serotonin and dopamine (ie, Effexor). Medications increase these neurotransmitters in ALL parts of the brain, leaving us with nasty side effects like weight gain and loss of sex drive (and isn't that depressing??). Chocolate only boosts these neurotransmitters in the parts of the brain that need it.
As if that weren't enough, chocolate works on the same receptors as marijuana, too. Smoking a joint fills the receptors reserved for endocannabinoids, and the only other ways to fill these receptors are through chocolate and exercise. Throw in a little caffeine for extra dopamine and chocolate is the perfect mood enhancing substance for anyone needing a boost.
Chocolate isn't the only thing we use to change our mood (neurotransmitter levels). Music, sunshine, Vitamin D3, medication, exercise, sex, alcohol, sugar, time spent in nature, and talking with a friend also increase our serotonin levels. Music with an irregular beat, high intensity exercise, risky behaviors, daredevil activities, nicotine, amphetamines, cocaine, coffee, chocolate, and proteins increase dopamine.
Am I recommending that you self medicate with chocolate? Sure, but only sparingly. Chocolate is not bad, but eating too much of it will spike your insulin and add pounds, which isn't good for health or mood.
So is there anything else that increases serotonin, dopamine, and endocannabinoid levels at once? Yes! There is!
Exercise not only boosts both neurotransmitters, it rebalances mood related transmitters while releasing a factor that helps our brain grow new brain cells. The factor released from our muscles during exercise is like Miracle Gro for the brain, helping us grow new brain cells that can hold new information. Exercise can unshrink the parts of your brain that depression tends to shrink (like the hippocampus).
The take home message: exercise for at least 30 minutes a day at 80% your aerobic threshold because the only thing better than feeling happier is feeling happier, being healthier, and getting smarter.