Consuming highly refined carbohydrates increases risk of depression

Led by James Gangwisch of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, the study looked at the dietary glycemic index, glycemic load, types of carbohydrates consumed and depression in data from more than 70,000 postmenopausal women who participated in the National Institutes of Health’s Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study between 1994 and 1998.

Consumption of carbohydrates increases blood sugar levels to varying degrees, depending on the type of food ingested. The more highly refined the carbohydrate, the higher its score on the glycemic index (GI) scale. The GI scale, which goes from 0-100, measures the amount of sugar found in the blood after eating. Refined foods such as white bread, white rice, and soda trigger a hormonal response in the body to reduce blood sugar levels. This response may also cause or exacerbate mood changes, fatigue and other symptoms of depression.

The investigators found that progressively higher dietary GI scores and consumption of added sugars and refined grains were associated with increased risk of new-onset depression in post-menopausal women. Greater consumption of dietary fiber, whole grains, vegetables and non-juice fruits was associated with decreased risk. This suggests that dietary interventions could serve as treatments and preventive measures for depression. 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.

The paper is “High Glycemic Index Diet as a Risk Factor for Depression: Analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative.” The authors are James E. Gangwisch, Lauren Hale, Lorena Garcia, Dolores Malaspina, Mark G. Opler, Martha E. Payne, Rebecca C. Rossom, and Dorothy Lane.

Author affiliations

Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Department of Psychiatry (JEG); Stony Brook University, Stony Brook Medicine, Program of Public Health and Department of Preventive Medicine (LH); UC Davis Health System, Department of Public Health Sciences (LG); New York University Langone Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry (DM, MGO); Duke University Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development (MEP); Health Partners Institute for Education and Research and the University of Minnesota Medical School, Department of Psychiatry (RCR); Stony Brook University, Stony Brook Medicine, Department of Preventive Medicine (DL)

The authors have declared no conflicts of interest.

The WHI program is funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through contracts N01WH22110, 24152, 32100-2, 32105-6, 32108-9, 32111-13, 32115, 32118-32119,38 32122, 42107-26, 42129-32 and 44221. Dr. Payne is supported by an NIH Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH) K12 grant (#HD043446).