Eating foods rich in processed sugar increases your risk of depression

Here’s one more reason for you to ditch junk food: They increase your risk of depression. Research has shown that avoiding junk food and eating foods belonging to the Mediterranean diet instead could reduce the risk of depression. The study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, showed that people who adhered to a Mediterranean diet were less likely to suffer from depression compared to those who regularly ate junk food, particularly those that contained high amounts of sugar.

A team of researchers from the U.K., Spain, and Australia reached this conclusion after they analyzed 41 studies that involved more than 32,000 people. In their review, the research team found that foods that were heavily processed and high in sugar led to inflammation in the body. This could lead to various conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, which can also affect mental health.

However, following a Mediterranean style diet reduced the risk of people developing mental health problems. These results suggest that a poor diet can affect mental health by sending pro-inflammatory molecules to the brain, which in turn interrupt mood regulation and increase the risk of depression. The researchers explained that this inflammation affects the body in the same way smoking, pollution, obesity, and lack of exercise do.

“Poor diet may increase the risk of depression as these are results from longitudinal studies which excluded people with depression at the beginning of the study. Therefore, the studies looked at how diet at baseline is related to new cases of depression,” said Camille Lassale, lead author of the study from the University of College London (UCL).

The research team concluded that adhering to a healthy diet, particularly a traditional Mediterranean diet, and avoiding a pro-inflammatory diet could reduce the risk of depressive symptoms or clinical depression. With these findings, they also encourage professionals and mental health experts to talk to patients more about how adhering to a poor-quality diet can affect health, both physically and mentally.

Other ways junk food affects your brain

Not only does junk food makes you depressed, it can also make you forgetful. A study published in The New Scientist revealed that eating too much junk food can increase your insulin levels, which has a negative effect on your memory.

While earlier studies have proven that poor diets are associated with dementia due to high blood pressure and cholesterol interrupting the brain’s blood supply, the current study shows that it can also inhibit brain cells from responding properly to insulin. Eating too many fatty foods and sweets can elevate your insulin levels, which causes muscles, fat, and liver cells to stop responding to the hormone. Similarly, high insulin levels in the brain will cause it to stop responding to the hormone, impairing the ability to think and create new memories.

A study conducted by researchers at Brown University also found a similar process on how junk food consumption may affect the brain. In the animal study, they found that blocking insulin from rats’ brains caused confusion and they failed to find their way out of a maze. Furthermore, the researchers took a closer look at the brain and found similar patterns of Alzheimer’s disease, such as high levels of the amyloid plaque which is a key component of the disease. (Related: Proof junk food is like a drug: Researchers found sugary and fatty foods distract people twice as much as healthy snacks.)

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