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A recent study revealed that a diet abundant in ultra-processed foods (UPF) items like sausages, bacon, and artificially sweetened beverages could elevate the risk of experiencing depression. The study concentrated on a cohort of more than 31,000 women in the United States and established a robust association between suboptimal dietary choices and susceptibility to depressive symptoms.

UPFs linked to increased depression risk

Their extensive ingredient lists, often containing additives and preservatives uncommon in homemade dishes, characterize UPFs. These products also boast extended shelf lives and are rich in saturated fats, sugar and salt.

Dr. Raaj Mehta of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital led a study using data from the Nurses’ Health Study II. The research followed middle-aged women without depression from 2003 to 2017. Their diets were analyzed every four years using food frequency questionnaires, a standard method for assessing long-term dietary patterns.

According to study findings, women who consumed more ultra-processed foods (UPF) had higher BMIs, were more inclined to smoke, had a higher occurrence of conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, and were less inclined to engage in regular exercise.

The research examined depression using two definitions: a strict one involving clinical diagnosis and regular antidepressant use, and a broader one encompassing clinical diagnosis and/or use of antidepressant. After accounting for factors like exercise, age, and income, the study discovered that individuals with the highest consumption of ultra-processed foods faced an elevated risk of depression according to both definitions.

Reducing UPF intake lowers depression risk

The research found that reducing UPFs intake by three servings daily was associated with a lower risk of depression compared to those who maintained their UPF consumption over four years. Although the precise link between UPF and depression is uncertain, the study suggests artificial sweeteners may impact brain chemistry, potentially contributing to depression.

In a recent media release, the researchers highlights that the connection between UPFs and depression remains uncertain. However, recent studies suggest that artificial sweeteners might activate purinergic signaling in the brain, potentially contributing to the emergence or progression of depression.