DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: Why junk food is worse for women’s mental health than men

Since I really have a sweet tooth, when I’m stressed, I get the crazy desire to hop on my bike, cycle down the hill, buy a big bar of chocolate, and then secretly make fun of it.

What keeps me from doing this (usually) is that I know that after a brief boost in my mood, I’m going to feel terrible afterwards; a mixture of guilt and a sugar high, followed by a low.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “we are what we eat,” but I’m not sure we believe this in our hearts.

We’ve known for some time that there’s a gender gap when it comes to mental health: One in four women will receive treatment for depression at some point, compared to one in ten men.

It certainly hasn’t stopped us from sticking with junk food, especially in times of stress, like now.

A recent YouGov survey found that 31 percent of Britons admitted to increasing their consumption of junk food (such as sweets, chips and fast food) during the pandemic.

Junk food has long been blamed for our rising rates of obesity, but there is mounting evidence that it also has a significant impact on our long-term mental health. And women appear to be particularly vulnerable, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine.

We’ve known for some time that there’s a gender gap when it comes to mental health: one in four women will receive treatment for depression at some point, compared to one in ten men.

Women are also twice as likely to be treated for anxiety. This is partly because men are much less willing to open up and acknowledge that they are struggling.

Even taking that into account, there seems to be a real gap. Could greater sensitivity to junk food help explain at least part of the gap?

That is certainly the suggestion of this new study. Researchers from Binghamton University in New York recruited 1,209 adults (aged 30 or older, with 329 males and 880 females) and asked them to complete a questionnaire to measure their mood and daily consumption of whole grains, fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, meat, beans , nuts, dairy and fish, junk foods and caffeinated drinks, as well as exercise levels.

A recent YouGov survey found that 31 percent of Britons admitted to increasing their consumption of junk food (such as sweets, chips and fast food) during the pandemic.

Their findings confirmed what previous studies have shown, which is that there is a strong relationship between what we eat, the amount of exercise we do, and our mental well-being.

But more surprisingly, consuming junk food appeared to have a greater negative effect on women than on men, and women also appeared to be more vulnerable to the effects of eating a high-glycemic diet, a diet high in foods such as whites. rice and white bread, which raise your blood sugar.

In addition, they found that women, but not men, who consumed a lot of caffeine reported more mental health problems.

The good news was that getting more exercise and eating a healthy Mediterranean diet (rich in vegetables, nuts and fatty fish) was also associated with better mental health in both sexes.

But here again, when the researchers analyzed the numbers, they found that women seemed to be more sensitive to the beneficial effects of these foods on mental health than men.

Lead researcher Lina Begdache, an assistant professor of health and wellness studies, said they had shown that “fast food, skipping breakfast, caffeine and high-glycemic foods are all associated with mental problems in mature women.” . . while fruits and dark green leafy vegetables are associated with mental well-being’.

She added that their study had confirmed what other studies have shown, “that women are more susceptible to unhealthy food than men.” So what could be happening here? One way junk food affects our brains is through its impact on our microbiome, the microbes that live in the gut.

The unhealthy fats and sugars in junk food encourage the growth of the “bad” bacteria that live in the gut – these, in turn, generate chemicals that cause inflammation throughout your body, including your brain.

We now know that inflammation in the brain can contribute to anxiety and depression. It may be that women are more sensitive to this inflammation – but at the moment no one knows.

What it does mean is that in these busy times we all need to be careful not to overeat snacks and make sure we get our five-a-day, writes Dr. Michael Mosley.

What it does mean is that in these busy times we all need to be careful not to overeat snacks and make sure we get our five-a-day, writes Dr. Michael Mosley.

What we do know is that, regardless of your gender, eating a Mediterranean diet stimulates the growth of “good” bacteria, which produce chemicals that can dampen inflammation, as well as the production of feel-good hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine.

One of the first scientists to demonstrate the powerful link between what we eat and how we feel was a friend of mine, Felice Jacka, a professor of nutritional psychiatry at Deakin University in Australia.

In 2017, Professor Jacka, director of the Food and Mood Center in Melbourne, published the hugely influential ‘Smiles’ study – here 67 patients with moderate or severe depression were randomly assigned to start either a Mediterranean diet or ‘social support’ to get.

Those on a Mediterranean diet were asked to eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, fish and olive oil, while cutting back on sweets, refined grains, fried foods, fast foods, cold cuts and sugary drinks.

After 12 weeks, there were major differences between the two groups: 32 percent of those on the Mediterranean diet were able to come off their medication and were no longer considered “depressed,” compared with 8 percent in the control group. Those closest to the Mediterranean diet enjoyed the greatest improvements in mood.

Since then, larger studies have made similar findings. While most include far more women than men, the men still got benefits, so the Binghamton study doesn’t excuse men to eat more junk food and skip the veggies.

What it does mean is that in these busy times we all need to be careful not to overeat snacks and make sure we get our five-a-day.

For the sake of your gut, your brain and your mental health, it’s really worth it.

Show your heart some love

The human heart is so rare and precious that I know of a case where a healthy donor organ, given to someone who subsequently died of complications, was re-transplanted into the next viable patient.

It shows why you should keep yours in good working order. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in British men (in women it’s dementia, then heart disease) and it’s on the rise, mainly thanks to the epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Lifestyle changes are vital, but cutting-edge science is doing its part. A recent innovation is injectable microspheres, tiny beads of material less than a quarter of a millimeter wide, covered with human stem cells that have the potential to grow into heart muscle and patch it up. Brilliant.

And now scientists in New York have shown they can use stem cells to grow tubes of human heart muscle that can pump fluid through a circuit.

Until they iron out the bugs, I’ll stick with my regimen of statins, press-ups, and keep a close eye on my waistline to protect my heart. As always, prevention is better than cure.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in British men (in women it's dementia, then heart disease) and it's on the rise, mainly thanks to the epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in British men (in women it’s dementia, then heart disease) and it’s on the rise, mainly thanks to the epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes

I’m not getting rid of my mask yet

Will you leave your mask behind or even burn it as a symbol of our new freedoms when Covid restrictions are lifted on July 19th? Personally, I’ll keep mine in a bag, ready to take out when I think it’s necessary.

I’m doubly vaccinated, so I’m not worried about getting infected, but I’m worried about picking it up and infecting others. After all, there are still millions of adults who haven’t had their first shots.

And while wearing masks is inconvenient, they are much more effective than most people think. A study published in January from the University of Cambridge found that even homemade cloth masks can block two-thirds of fine particles (such as those that carry the Covid virus from exhaled breath), which is far better than nothing.

I will continue to wear a mask on public transport when it is busy, and in pharmacies, because vulnerable people are likely to shop there.

When winter comes, we may very well find ourselves rummaging through drawers, looking for masks to protect ourselves from a particularly nasty flu outbreak, or even the next wave of new Covid strains.

Will you leave your mask behind or even burn it as a symbol of our new freedoms when Covid restrictions are lifted on July 19th?

Will you leave your mask behind or even burn it as a symbol of our new freedoms when Covid restrictions are lifted on July 19th?

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