Can depression be driven by junk food?

Yes it can. A recent study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry has found that eating junk food increases the risk of becoming depressed, the findings have come from an analysis by researchers from Britain, Spain and Australia who examined 41 previous studies on the links between diet and depression. “A pro-inflammatory diet can induce systemic inflammation, and this can directly increase the risk for depression,” said Dr Camille Lassale, the study’s lead author. Bad diet heightens the risk of depression to a significant extent, she added.

Poor diet leads to inflammation of not just the gut but the whole body, known as “systemic inflammation”. Dr Lassale from the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London  explained that “chronic inflammation can affect mental health by transporting pro-inflammatory molecules into the brain, it can also affect the molecules – neurotransmitters – responsible for mood regulation”.

The research showed that poor diet has a likely causal link with the onset of depression and not merely an association. They based their conclusions on reviewing five longitudinal studies of 32,908 adults from the UK, France, Spain, Australia and the US.

In her 2016 book A Mind of Your Own, Kelly Brogan MD (Psychiatrist) discussed a new way of looking at depression. Many of us now look at mental health issues as a “mind” or “brain” issue but often these issues relate to your body health, there can be a “physical” cause driving the “mental” issue. Depression is often an inflammatory condition.

The role of inflammation in mental illness has been discussed in the medical literature for over 20 years. Dr Brogan explains that depression is a meaningful symptom of a mismatch biologically with lifestyle and that the body creates symptoms for a reason, so we pay attention! Inflammation is the language the body uses to let us now that there is an imbalance, the symptoms can be quite diverse including digestive issues, stress, skin conditions, headaches or other pain.

Ensure you eat a healthy nourishing diet most of the time to support a healthy mood:

credit: iStock photo: nito100

• Reduce sugar – high refined carbohydrate and sugar diets are very inflammatory to the body and can be quite detrimental to your mood
• Eat good fats – they are essential nutrients; anti-inflammatory and are used in the body for many functions eg making hormones and sending messages between the brain and the rest of the body. This includes cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts & seeds, oily fish and eggs especially the yolk.
• Protein and fat are also important for helping to balance your blood sugar levels. Many body chemicals (including neurotransmitters in the brain) and body structures are made from protein so it is essential to have good quality protein at each meal. Eg eggs, fish, grass fed beef, chicken, lamb, fermented tofu.
• Eat plenty of colourful vegetables (eat a rainbow to get all of your nutrients)• Ensure you drink plenty of water, avoid sugary drinks or too many caffeinated drinks.

Don’t underestimate building healthy relationships. When you are going through a hard time, good friends will be one of your most important resources. Reach out to others, share the journey – you can help others and they can help you, you don’t have to do it alone. 1 in 5 Australians are affected by mental illness, and as a society in Australia we are becoming more aware and more supportive of people experiencing mental health issues.

Fiona Kane is a Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, Holistic Counsellor, Transformational Life Coach, Professional Speaker, Podcaster and writer on Health and Nutrition and the founder of Informed Health Pty Ltd, holding an Advanced Diploma of Nutritional Medicine, Diploma in Holistic Counselling and Life Care and Certificate in Transformational Life Coaching. Fiona is registered and accredited with Australian Traditional-Medicine Society (ATMS), Australia’s largest professional association of complementary medicine practitioners. Fiona has been in practice for 11 years.