Posted on Aug 07, 2017, 8 a.m.
Eating too much sugar increases the likelihood of common mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Using data gathered for other 30 years, a research team from the University College London have successfully linked a diet high in processed sugar with a higher risk of developing disorders like anxiety and depression. The report was published in the Scientific Reports journal in July 2017. The paper was co-authored by Anika Knüppel and Eric Brunner, both from the UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health.
Whitehall II Study
According to the UCL website, the Whitehall II study, otherwise known as the Stress and Health Study, collected and analyzed the health information of 10,308 men and women from 1983 through 2013. All participants were employees of the British Civil Service, living in the London area.
The longitudinal study was designed to explore the ways in which a person’s social status influenced key health factors. Researchers used physical examinations and questionnaires to observe how psychology and behavior affect physiology. It also sought to examine how these things influence the development of certain diseases.
The current report was compiled by analyzing data from the Whitehall II study. Study authors used information on dietary sugar intake and mental health to draw their conclusions.
Sugar Intake and Mental Health Decline
Previous research has suggested that those who eat a diet high in processed sugar are more likely to have depression and other mood disorders. It was not known, however, if these results meant that those who suffer from mood disorders simply craved sugary treats, or if the sugar intake itself caused the change in mental function.
In their analysis, the study’s authors measured how many grams of processed sugar participants consumed in the form of beverages and foods. The sample group was then divided into three groups. The first group included men who consumed at least 67 grams of sugar per day. After five years, this group showed a 23% increase in the risk of developing a mental disorder when compared with the third group who consumed less than 39.5 grams of processed sugar each day. These results do not take into account other factors like overall diet or other diseases. Participants who were already diagnosed with a mental disorder showed an increased chance of repeated episodes of depression when eating a high sugar diet.
While the study supports the link between sugar consumption and a decline in mental health, the study did not show that those who developed mental disorders ate more sugary foods than those who maintained healthy mental states. This proves that consuming sugar causes the changes in mental function.
Public Health Issue
The average man from the UK eats 68.4 grams of sugar every day. This is twice the recommended daily intake. In the United States, sugar consumption is almost three times more than the recommended intake. Some researchers predict that by the year 2030 major depression will be the leading cause of disability in economically privileged countries.
When first consumed, sugar produces a temporary lift in mood, which leads some people to seek sweet snacks in response to stress. However, repeated use of added sugars over the long-term has the opposite effect and eventually leads to depressive mood disorders.
Researchers are using their findings to justify a tax on soft drinks in the UK. The tax, set to be instituted in April 2018, seeks to discourage the consumption of processed sugar by making them more expensive.
Anika Knüppel et al. Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-05649-7