- Study Suggests Artificial Sweeteners May Cause Depression
- The findings are preliminary and experts suggest more data is needed.
- READ MORE: I am a dentist. This is why people should NOT give up sweeteners.
A study suggests that artificial sweeteners and ultra-processed foods can cause depression.
Researchers at Harvard University and Mass Brigham General Hospital in Massachusetts evaluated the diets of more than 30,000 middle-aged white women. About 7,000 were clinically diagnosed with depression.
Researchers suggested that the consumption of ultra-processed foods, such as cereals, snacks and ready-to-eat meals, could be to blame for depression. Additionally, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has considered a possible carcinogen, were associated with higher rates.
However, experts have warned that there is not enough evidence to directly link food to depression.
The artificial sweetener aspartame, found in drinks such as Diet Coke, has been considered a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The research letter, published in JAMA on Wednesday, analyzed more than 31,000 women between 42 and 62 years old. The researchers asked them to complete questionnaires about their eating habits every four years. It is unclear how long they were evaluated.
The researchers used two definitions of depression: narrow and broad. Strict depression meant that patients reported that they had been diagnosed with the illness by a doctor and that they used antidepressants regularly. Generalized depression, on the other hand, meant that patients had a clinical diagnosis and/or were taking antidepressants.
Of the 31,712 participants, 2,122 had strict depression, while 4,820 had broad depression.
Researchers suggested that ultra-processed foods could lead to a higher chance of depression, although they’re not sure why.
However, artificial sweeteners and artificially sweetened beverages were directly associated with an increased risk of depression by activating certain compounds in the brain. The researchers did not go into details about this process.
Dr Duane Mellor, a dietitian at Aston University in the UK, said: “Researchers speculate that this could be because the compounds reach the brain; this research does not provide evidence to support this, and it could be that people who were living with depression would have chosen more sweetened drinks, rather than being causal.
Other researchers said that while the findings are promising, more research is needed.
“This study provides insight into the potential role of artificial sweeteners on physical and mental health, but this needs to be confirmed by further research that goes beyond observational data,” said Dr. Sharmali Edwin Thanarajah, a neurologist in Germany.
The study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that processed foods could lead to adverse health effects.
A 2022 study published in the journal Neurology found that a 10 percent increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods could increase the risk of dementia.
Furthermore, a large cohort study in France suggested that the same increase in ultra-processed foods led to an increased risk of breast cancer.
A global comparison study published in Obesity Reviews showed that an increase in per capita sales of ultra-processed foods and beverages was associated with higher body mass index (BMI).
The researchers said their main limitation is that the study was conducted only on women, most of whom were white, so the population was limited.
Additionally, those with a higher intake of ultra-processed foods had higher BMI, smoking rates, and rates of diabetes and hypertension. They were also less likely to exercise regularly. This means that these participants could have developed depression due to a multitude of other factors.