Could Your Diet Be Making You Depressed?

Diets high in refined carbohydrates linked to depression risk in postmenopausal women

Feeling blue? You may not want to turn to that macaroni and cheese for comfort — especially if you're a postmenopausal woman.

A new study from Columbia University found that postmenopausal women who eat diets high in refined carbohydrates may face a higher risk of new-onset depression.

"The consumption of sweetened beverages, refined foods and pastries has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of depression in longitudinal studies," wrote lead study author James E. Gangwisch, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, and colleagues.

Depression is a persistent state of sadness that interferes with daily life and lasts longer than two weeks. It can result from either genetic or environmental factors.

Refined carbohydrates are commonly found in white bread, sugary soda, snack foods and pasta.

Refined carbs have a simpler structure than complex carbs, such as those found in whole grains, vegetables and beans.

As a result, they enter the bloodstream quickly. This can lead to an increase in blood sugar and a secretion of insulin (a hormone used to stabilize blood sugar).

The higher the blood sugar increase from a food is, the higher it is placed on the glycemic index (GI) scale.

Dr. Gangwisch and team looked at dietary and depression data on more than 70,000 postmenopausal women from the National Institutes of Health’s Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study between 1994 and 1998.

The women whose diets scored lower on the GI scale had a lower likelihood of depression than women whose diets scored higher.

According to Dr. Gangwisch and team, eating high-GI foods can lead to fatigue, depression and mood swings. This is a result of the hormonal response that is triggered as the body's blood sugar levels elevate.

High consumption of refined carbohydrates is also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, a condition that is also linked to depression.

Although these findings are only observational, they highlight the possibility of dietary interventions to treat depression in postmenopausal women.

This study was published July 29 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.