A mood disorder is a condition where one’s natural emotional mood is distorted or incongruous to one’s circumstances. The category of mood disorders includes all types of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders. Sometimes called “affective disorders,” mood disorders often co-occur with anxiety disorders and substance abuse.
Mood disorders are common in the US and internationally; in fact, an estimated 26% of Americans ages 18 and older — 57 million people — suffer from a diagnosable mood disorder in a given year. That’s one in four adults! The average age at onset for mood disorders is early or mid-20s. However, the National Institute of Mental Health reports depression onset is occurring earlier in life today than in past decades. Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in The US for ages 15-44.
Though depression is such a prevalent condition covering all demographics, it’s causes are not well known. Heredity, severe stress due to another medical condition or life events, and one’s expectation levels can all factor in to an unhealthy emotional state.
The brain is a complex organ; thus we have limited understanding of moods and emotions. We do know there are chemicals in the brain called endorphins, which are responsible for positive moods. Other chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters, regulate endorphins. Anything we can do to enhance the activity of neurotransmitters can only reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and related conditions.
One theory for the cause of depression is that patients suffer from a phenylethylamine (PEA) deficit. PEA is a natural compund that functions in our brain as a neurotransmitter; it has been shown to increase attention and activity in animals and relieve depression in 60% of depressed patients. (see study by Sabelli, et al. called Sustained antidepressant effect of PEA replacement published 1996 in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences) It is also found in many foods such as dark chocolate. It has been suggested that phenylethylamine from food is the “love” chemical that elevates mood.
A chocolate bar a day
A recent study examined women’s emotional changes after eating chocolate. Study subjects were given a chocolate bar, an apple or nothing to eat, afterward rating their subjective state at timed increments. Both chocolate and the apple were shown to reduce hunger, elevate mood and increase activity, but the effects of the chocolate were stronger, with more intense positive feelings being noted. (study by Macht and Dettmer Everyday mood and emotion after eating a chocolate bar or an apple published in Appetite May 2006)