A recent study suggests that processed carbohydrates such as those found in white bread and rice could be connected to a higher risk of depression among post-menopausal women.
According to the study authors, processed carbohydrates are involved in a series of chemical reactions that lead to hormone changes. These hormonal shifts result in blood sugar spikes and drops and these irregular levels may lead to depression.
The findings were published in this month’s issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and are based on the conclusions that researchers reached after examining over 70,000 post-menopausal women.
Luckily, non-processed foods, such as whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables can reduce the risk of depression, study authors mention.
Approximately 14.8 million American adults suffer from major depressive disorder, and women are more likely to suffer from this condition. As such, the findings of this study may contribute to new treatment avenues or preventive strategies if a definitive correlation could be established between depression risk and nutrition.
The research team examined the connection between the high glycemic index of the 70,000 study participants and their risk of depression. They concluded that a high GI score was connected to an increased risk of depression. Contrastingly, diets consisting of whole foods, grains and fresh vegetables were connected to a decreased risk.
But this result may be misleading. Carbohydrate consumption leads to a blood sugar level rise. In turn, this increasing blood sugar leads to an increase in insulin levels. This response is accelerated when eating highly-refined carbohydrates. Insulin reduces blood sugar levels and as a result, people may experience mood changes, fatigue as well as other symptoms of depression.
The study has received some criticism. One the one side, one may wonder whether the high consumption of refined carbohydrates wasn’t the result of a depressive disorder to begin with. Many people suffering from depression consume refined carbohydrates as mood regulators. One blood sugar levels rise, moods improve. With time, depression patients recognize the connection and repeat the behavior.
It’s causation that further research needs to address.
Lead study author, Dr. James Gangwisch is convinced that dietary intervention could become a cornerstone of depression preventive measures. But he admits that further research is required.
“Further study is needed to examine the potential of this novel option for treatment and prevention, and to see if similar results are found in the broader population,” he said.
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