"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Depression related to highly processed foods and artificial sweeteners

October 20, 2023 – People who eat more highly processed foods – especially artificial sweeteners and artificially sweetened drinks – could also be at higher risk of depression, in accordance with a brand new study.

The study was recently published in JAMA network opened.

Ultra-processed foods are energy-dense and ready-to-eat foods, including processed luncheon meats, packaged snacks and ice cream, and artificially sweetened beverages. Artificial sweeteners, also a highly processed food, include things like aspartame, sucralose and saccharin.

“We found that eating large amounts of highly processed foods can increase the risk of depression by up to 50%,” said Raaj Mehta, MD, MPH, one in all the study authors and a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

This study adds to the growing concern about any such food, he said.

It's just more evidence that these foods are harmful to our bodies, and not only our physical health.

“The reason this is so important is because people aren't always aware of the connection between diet and mental health, and I think what this could do is really encourage doctors to have conversations about it “What you are.” Food may very well affect how you are feeling,” Mehta said.

He said that because it was an observational study during which a gaggle of individuals were observed and studied over an extended time period and there have been no control and treatment groups, it couldn’t be said to be highly processed foods causes Depression. Nevertheless, he considers the info to be meaningful.

“We were able to take into account a number of so-called confounding variables in our analysis to suggest that eating more ultra-processed foods could actually increase the risk of depression.”

“When you adjust for these variables, you sometimes find that the models or results become weaker. And we didn’t see that at all,” he said later.

Mehta said he desired to conduct the study to look at the “gut-brain axis,” which he described as a “bidirectional highway between your gut and the brain.”

“We looked at the literature and found that there was some data showing that diet influences the risk of depression, but ultimately we didn't know which specific foods were responsible.”

Ultra-processed foods have been linked to health problems starting from heart and blood vessel disease to dementia and cancer, Mehta said, but there really isn't much evidence concerning the risk of depression.

Researchers conducted the evaluation using the Nurses' Health Study II between 2003 and 2017 on 31,712 middle-aged women without depression at baseline. They examined the patients' diets every 4 years using food surveys.

In a later evaluation, they grouped highly processed foods into subgroups equivalent to highly processed grain foods, ready-to-eat meals, processed dairy products, sweet snacks, beverages and artificial sweeteners, etc.

They considered other possible risk aspects for depression, including smoking, exercise, body mass index (BMI), alcohol consumption, total energy intake, other illnesses that study participants had, and more. The authors examined the association between changes in four-yearly updated consumption of ultra-processed foods and the frequency of depression.

Researchers found that the ladies who ate numerous highly processed foods also had the next BMI; higher smoking rates; higher rates of diabetes and hypertension; and so they were less prone to exercise commonly.

Over a 15-year period, 2,122 cases of depression were identified using a strict definition of depression and 4,840 using a broader definition.

The authors then examined the association between certain categories of highly processed foods and the chance of depression. The results showed that only artificially sweetened drinks and artificial sweeteners were linked to the next risk of depression.

“After we found that these highly processed foods were linked to depression, our question was: What in the large group of foods could explain our results?” Mehta said.

He and his team tested different foods for the chance of future depression. “And then we found that artificially sweetened beverages and other sweeteners were associated with depression, but the other groups were not,” he said.

How this connection between artificial sweeteners and artificially sweetened beverages might come about is unknown, the authors write, but current experimental data suggests that artificial sweeteners elicit specific transmissions within the brain, which may very well be a part of the reason, the authors write.

“There's been some really interesting data from mice showing that when you give them artificial sweeteners and regular sugar, completely different neurotransmission signals occur in the brain,” Mehta said.

“When you look at the overall category of ultra-processed foods, the magnitude of the effect appears to be greater than for artificial sweeteners or artificially sweetened drinks, and therefore the likely scenario is that it is actually the sum of all of them combined. ”

The researchers also found that those that limited their day by day intake of highly processed foods to greater than three servings per day had a lower overall risk.

Future Impact

The study results could help create more opportunities for doctors to refer to their patients about what a healthy weight-reduction plan means and advise them to contemplate limiting highly processed foods, said one other study creator, Andrew Chan, MD, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and in addition a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The research could also represent a chance for patients with a mood disorder to contemplate dietary changes as “another way to manage their illness,” he said.

The World Health Organization did too devices Avoid artificial sweeteners.

“I think I would be very comfortable advising a patient to avoid highly processed foods, especially given that they have been linked to many other health problems,” Mehta said.