We know highly processed carbohydrates like soft drink/soda, white bread, and junk foods aren’t so great for our waistlines, hearts or overall health.
But newer research suggests it could even lead to depression in post-menopausal women.
Don't stop reading because we said post-menopausal!
Chances are if you’re visiting a pregnancy, birth, and parenting website, you might be wondering if a study regarding post-menopausal women is really relevant to you.
I know when I first came across this study I wasn’t so sure… but after looking into how and why there may be a correlation between refined carbohydrates and depression, I think it’s likely relevant to everyone. Especially when you consider, pregnancy is a state of ‘meno-pause'.
And if there’s a potentially strong link in any demographic, it could very easily be impacting everyone on some level.
Perhaps we all need to think a bit more about what refined carbohydrates could be doing to our bodies (including our minds)?
What Connection Did The Study Find Between Refined Carbs And Depression?
In the nutrition and psychology fields, there’s always been some level of knowledge that dietary choices can impact mood, and mood can also impact dietary choices.
Dr. James Gangwisch and others from Columbia University Medical Center’s department of psychiatry decided to look at dietary GI (glycemic index, the measurement of sugar in the blood after eating), glycemic load, and other carbohydrate measures (added sugars, total sugars, glucose, sucrose, lactose, fructose, starch, carbohydrate) and the rate of depression in post-menopausal women.
Refined carbohydrates cause higher dietary GI. Women in this observational study with higher dietary GI levels were found to have an increased risk of depression. Women with lower dietary GI levels had a lower risk of depression.
What Are Refined Carbohydrates?
The human body needs food as fuel. Without some type of energy (calories) our body is unable to function. Calories and nutrition, however, are not created equally. Poor fuel can cause many health problems, including unstable or higher blood sugar levels after eating.
Carbohydrates are a necessary part of the human diet, however, refined (or highly processed) carbohydrates are not.
Refined carbohydrates typically include anything highly processed. Some refined carbohydrates or foods containing them include:
- Soda and other sugary beverages
- Non-whole grain bread
- Pastries and baked goods
- Non-whole grain pasta
- Snack foods with added sugars
- Fruit juices with added sugar
What Do The Study Results Mean?
It’s important to remember that correlation (a connection between two things) does not necessarily equal a causation (a direct cause and effect). We can’t say for sure that having a diet high in refined carbohydrates will lead to depression, but we can say that there’s a link between the two.
When we see a correlation, it leads to more studying and thinking about how or why these two things might be connected.
This study found a clear link between having a higher dietary GI as the result of a high refined carbohydrate diet and a risk of depression. Essentially, we see these two things together, but we aren’t positive the cause and effect.
However, because these two are seen together, there’s speculation that dietary changes could be protective against developing depression and/or be used as a treatment.
How Could Higher Dietary GI Lead To Depression?
The foods we eat directly affect how our body functions. Our digestive system and metabolism work to turn food into usable fuel for our bodies.
When we consume food, the rise in blood glucose signals our pancreas to release insulin. The higher the glucose level, the more insulin needs to be released. The insulin signals your cells to take the glucose from your blood and use it as energy.
When our diet is comprised of a lot of refined carbohydrates, our body needs to continually release higher levels of insulin.
When we have higher levels of insulin for prolonged periods of time, our cells become resistant and require even more insulin to process the glucose in our blood.
Eventually, our pancreas becomes unable to produce the higher levels of insulin needed and this can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Insulin is a hormone, and as a hormone, it can impact many bodily functions. We know there is a correlation between insulin resistance and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), heart disease and overall inflammation in the body. In some
In some ways, it doesn’t come as a surprise that higher dietary GI levels could also impact our mood and lead to depression given the many other effects it has on the body.
But This Study Was About Post-Menopausal Women, How Is It Relevant To Me?
This study only included post-menopausal women and therefore is limited in some ways as far as applying to other demographics.
However, because it only included post-menopausal women it means other demographics can’t be ruled out as having similar responses to diets high in refined carbohydrates.
Lead researcher, Dr. James Gangwisch says, “Although our study only included post-menopausal women, the theorized mechanisms by which a diet high in refined carbohydrates could lead to depression would apply to other populations as well. The hope is that the results from our research will spur future research that includes younger women and men.”
Why Our Diet Matters Regardless Of Age
If you’re visiting our website, there’s a good chance you’re still in your childbearing years, and thus you’re not post-menopausal. While this study only included post-menopausal women, the results can serve as a good reminder about the importance of our diet.
We know that our diet can impact our hormones. We know that diet can impact many conditions such as PCOS. It can greatly impact our pregnancy from the development of gestational diabetes to affecting the metabolism of our great grandchildren! Our diet really matters.
It can be hard to make good choices when we live in a time where delicious junk food tempts us around every bend… but the more we learn, the more we know how important it is to make healthy food choices.
BellyBelly highly recommends watching the What's With Wheat? documentary.