When they are unhappy, depressed or anxious, many people like to eat some foods to make themselves happy and happy, especially ultra-processed foods, such as "happy water", chocolate, potato chips, burgers and ice cream, etc. This phenomenon is called "emotional eating" or "stress eating."
While eating something ultra-processed can feel pleasurable when you're at an emotional low, it's only temporary emotional relief and won't solve the underlying problem. In the long term, eating ultra-processed foods can also lead to a series of adverse consequences, not only physical, but also mental and psychological.
A study published in JAMA Network Open, a subsidiary journal of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that women who frequently eat ultra-processed foods may increase their risk of depression, especially those who frequently drink or eat drinks with artificial sweeteners or other artificial sweeteners. People who consume flavored foods are at higher risk.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and other institutions analyzed data from the National Nurses Health Study II (NHS II), including a total of 31,712 female participants aged 42-62 (average age 52). .
Through the questionnaire, the researchers counted the basic information of the participants, such as height, weight, ethnicity, lifestyle information such as smoking status, alcohol consumption, marital status and physical activity, information on the consumption of ultra-processed cereals, sweets, snacks, sugary and artificial sweetener drinks, and other foods containing artificial sweeteners, information on the history of chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, and information on the family history of depression.
Researchers will follow up with participants every 4 years to update the above information and count the prevalence of depression. In this study, researchers divided the prevalence of depression into two categories:
Strictly defined depression, that is, depression diagnosed by a doctor or depression taking regular antidepressant medication;
Generalized depression refers to people who think they have depression but need a clinical diagnosis from a doctor.
Statistical results show that women who regularly eat ultra-processed foods have higher body mass index (BMI) and smoking rates, are more likely to suffer from diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidemia, and rarely engage in regular exercise.
During the follow-up period, a total of 2122 cases of strictly defined depression and 4840 cases of generalized depression were newly diagnosed.
After controlling for other factors, the researchers found that regular consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with an increased risk of depression among participants.
Compared with the fifth of participants who consumed the least amount of ultra-processed foods, the risk of strictly defined depression and generalized depression were increased by 49% and 34%, respectively, in the fifth of participants who consumed the most ultra-processed foods.
Among different types of ultra-processed foods, the association between artificially sweetened beverages and other foods containing artificial sweeteners and the risk of depression was stronger.
Compared with the fifth of participants who drank the least amount of artificially sweetened beverages, the risk of strictly defined depression was 37% higher among participants in the fifth that drank the most artificially sweetened beverages.
Compared with the fifth of participants who consumed the least amount of other artificial sweetener foods, the risk of strictly defined depression was 26% higher among participants in the fifth that consumed the most.
Researchers believe the link between ultra-processed foods and the risk of depression may be due to a variety of factors. However, the relevant mechanism has not yet been clarified and more research is needed.
Ultra-processed foods are usually rich in carbohydrates, saturated fats and energy. Frequent consumption may increase inflammation, affect the balance of neurotransmitters, thereby affecting brain function and mood regulation, and increasing the risk of depression and other mental health problems.
Eating too much ultra-processed food can lead to weight gain and obesity, which has also been linked to an increased risk of depression. Obesity may lead to lowered self-esteem and social impairment, which increases the risk of depression.
Artificial sweeteners are associated with a higher risk of depression, possibly because they cause purines to be transported in the brain, which may be involved in the pathogenesis of depression.
It should be noted that this study was observational and only showed that regular consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with an increased risk of depression in women. It did not show cause and effect. And the study also has some limitations, such as the participants are mainly female, and the impact of ultra-processed food on the risk of depression in men cannot be determined.
The study concluded that the prevalence of depression has been on the rise globally in recent years, which has attracted widespread concern. At the same time, our eating habits have also undergone significant changes, with ultra-processed foods taking up a greater proportion of the diet.
There is growing evidence that diet may influence the risk of depression. The findings from this study suggest that improving diet quality and reducing consumption of ultra-processed foods may be helpful in preventing and managing depression.
It should be reminded that if you or someone you know is experiencing depression or has depressive symptoms, you must seek professional help in time. If necessary, it can be effectively managed through psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both to promote psychological and mental health.