Depression is a widely prevalent mental health issue in society today. There is a rising interest in finding the link between dietary nutrition and mental health outcomes in adults.
The rise in depressive symptoms among adults is often attributed to lifestyle factors. Among different factors like the socio-economic conditions, medical history, and exercise, dietary nutrition is one of the most important influences on the onset of depressive symptoms in adults. Even though researchers have found the effects of carbohydrate consumption on the physical health of a person, the link between various aspects of carbohydrate nutrition and mental health outcomes is yet to be explored.
Different carbohydrate-rich food has different effects on the human body. This depends on a measure of carbohydrate quality, called as the glycemic index (GI). Another aspect of carbohydrate-rich food that measures both quality and quantity of food is called as glycemic load (GL), which is the product of GI and total carbohydrate content of food. Other factors, like intake of sugary foods and dietary fiber, are also influential in various physical and mental health outcomes. Researchers conducted a study in order to further clarify the role of carbohydrates and fiber on the occurrence of depressive symptoms in adults. The details of the study can be found in the January 2017 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition.
The study collected data from 2332 participants aged 55+ years and 1952 participants aged 60+ years. The participants recorded their daily diet details including portion sizes, type of food, frequency of consumption and ingredients over a year’s time period. Based on this data, GI and GL were calculated. Along with data on carbohydrates, information about consumption of other carbohydrate-containing foods, like fruits, vegetables, and cereals, was also recorded. Additionally, the participants underwent a detailed assessment of depressive symptoms. This assessment was based on a short form survey including questions regarding feelings of happiness, sadness, nervousness and anxiety. In order to include other influential factors, trained interviewers conducted interviews with the participants to collect comprehensive data. This data included information about medical history, socio-economic characteristics, hearing and health-risk factors like smoking, exercise, etc.
Based on the analysis of dietary data and assessment of depressive symptoms, there is clear evidence that carbohydrate nutrition variables are linked to presence of depressive symptoms. The results indicate that consumption of foods with a higher GI can increase the likelihood of depressive symptoms and high-GI diets could be a risk factor for depression. Inversely, the consumption of dietary fibers, fruits and vegetables can considerably lower the prevalence of depressive symptoms. This observational study is a beginning to understanding the intricate relationship between diet and mental health.
Written By: Anuja Kulkami, Biomedical Engineer