Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Link between 'junk food' and depression?

I'm interested to note that there may be a link between a diet of 'junk food' and depression. According to the Daily Mail:

Those who regularly eat high-fat foods, processed meals, desserts and sweets are almost 60 per cent more likely to suffer depression than those who choose fruit, vegetables and fish.

Researchers claim their study is the first to investigate the link between overall diet and mental health, rather than the effects of individual foods.

Dr Eric Brunner, one of the researchers from University College London, said: 'There seem to be various aspects of lifestyle such as taking exercise which also matter, but it appears that diet is playing an independent role.'

. . .

The researchers found that those with the highest consumption of processed food were 58 per cent more likely to be depressed five years later than those eating the least amount.

The researchers suggest several reasons for the protective effect of a healthy diet.

They believe that high levels of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables protect against depression, as does the folate found in broccoli, cabbage, spinach, lentils and chickpeas.

Eating more fish may be protective due to high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, it is claimed.

However, it is possible the effect comes from a 'whole food' diet that has many nutrients from different types of food rather than one single nutrient.

Dr Brunner, a reader in epidemiology at UCL, said the reverse was also important, that poor eating habits put more of a strain on the body.

He said: 'If your diet is high in foods that make blood sugar levels go up and down like a yo-yo, then it's not good for your blood vessels and is bound to have an effect on the brain.'

There's more at the link.

I find this particularly interesting in the light of the number of US schoolchildren who are on prescribed drugs (e.g. Ritalin) for ADD and other mental problems. I'm willing to bet a large number of them are on junk-food-rich diets. How much do those diets have to do with their ADD and other problems? That might make for a very fertile field for research . . . but then, of course, it wouldn't be politically correct to investigate that, would it?




On a Wing and a Whim said...

What do their diets have to do with so-called ADD and other problems? Just ask any teacher who's been around a while about the effects of lack of breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, post-lunch digestion in a stuffy warm room vs. sugar-rich lunch, then coming off the lunch-aided sugar high does to kids. Their evidence is impressive, their language corrosive.

Though with this firmly in hand, now let us discuss that desire you had again for tiramisu...

Dirk said...

As an anecdotal bit of evidence on the other side... My son and daughter both eat (and have always eaten) a healthy, balanced diet. Lots of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, grains, etc. They always get breakfast, and their snacks are healthy, with very little sugar - we make 'em ourselves. They get very little candy - usually a mini-size candy bar, or a couple small pieces for dessert after dinner. Their diet is occasionally heavy on the starches (pasta, beans), and they get fast food maybe once a month, if they're lucky. Both are actually a little on the thin side for their ages and heights. (Lucky little snots, given that both their parents are somewhat overweight!)

Both kids have ADHD issues. My daughter just has some minor problems, and doesn't require medication. It helps that she's older (11), and is more self-aware, and can exercise enough self-control to overcome her issues.

My 8-year-old son, though, is a mess. Even with a rather large dose of Concerta, he still has trouble focusing, staying still, getting his classwork done, etc. We were both very reluctant to medicate him, but his grades were starting to slip, and he was a constant disruption in school - rocking in his chair, rocking his chair, tapping pencils, fiddling with stuff in his desk, verbal outbursts, so on and so forth. Yeah, all kids do that...but he could not stop himself from doing it. Heck, most of the time, he wasn't even aware of it.

Medication helps him slow down a bit, sort through the massive rush of thoughts that are constantly rushing through his head. He's almost unmanageable until his medication has kicked in.

So, in my humble opinion, I'm sure diet can be a factor in some things. But I don't know that you want to confuse the sugar-rush hyperactivity with the very real problems of ADHD. I used to think that it was all bad parenting and lack of self-control, etc. And it's likely that half of it is.

But having lived with it for a few years, I have to respectfully disagree with your suggestion that "all that junk food" causes ADD.

Betty said...

Look up Omega 3 fatty acids and depression. There's quite a few women who take fish oil as part of their treatment for PPD.

On a Wing and a Whim said...


Once upon a time I was part of a van-load of kids staring in horror at our little A, who announced in a sing-song as we finally pulled into camp, "I didn't bring my Ritalin!"

I truly believe in ADD and ADHD. I also was part of the conspiracy to use our favored hyperactive kid as the camp's runner, so he never had to sit still. (It meant everybody had a great time.)

However, having been part of the medicated generation, I can also say that most of my generation got stuck with a diagnosis of ADD and fed ritalin because we were bored with the stupid class material, bored with teachers who couldn't teach well or wanted to push an agenda we didn't see the point of of (or could see the logic holes in), bored with sitting still when there was a pretty day outside, bored bored bored and on a sugar high. Bored! Rather than challenge us (they kept lowering test standards instead), they liked to medicate us, and we clearly had severe cases of some syndrome when the medication didn't work (because we were flushing it instead of taking it - who wants to be a zombie?)

The FAA has even admitted it in a backhanded way - they still ban anyone from flying if you have ever taken psychotropics.... except a childhood history of Ritalin. And that, good sir, is as close to an official admission of policy gone wonky as my undereducated and overmedicated generation is ever likely to get.

Good luck to you and your kids - sounds like you're raising them right!

Dirk said...

You mention boredom... Yeah, that was definitely a problem for both of ours. They're both in the "TAG" program (The Advanced and Gifted) in school, and my 3rd-grade son is in 4th-grade math classes. He's got a high-B average, too. We've tried to engage the school in challenging them and keeping them from being bored, with varying degrees of success.

I definitely think there's some hereditary factors in ADHD. I've noticed that my son is often doing some of the same things as me...but with less self-awareness and a near-total lack of self-control.

Interestingly...if you put a book in his hands, and he's at all interested in it, he'll make like a statue as he zooms through it. It's the damnedest thing...

Mario in PY said...

I can only confirm what Dirk has mentiond, as well as some issued mentioned by On a Wing and a Whim.

Teacher often confuse bored with stupid and disruptive. I am myself a case in point. Empirical evidence suggests a correlation between ADD/ADHD and a higher IQ. And a hereditary component also seems to an important factor.

My uncle who is a ER doctor says that the best ER doctors all have ADHD. The same seems to be true for entrepreneurs. Historical evidence suggests that Edison, Einstein and Mozart all had ADHD.

When my oldest started grade school the teacher were reluctant to help us out with administering the 3-hourly Ritalin dosage (no retard pills available then), until they had the chance to observe first hand the difference in behaviour and attention span. Now we use a minimal dosage of Tofranil.

I myself have suffered through my school years because of my own undiagnosed ADHD. Teachers have labeld me as "the problem" and even threatened to throw me out of school. I had serious problems in school because I was bored and underchallenged, and the schoolsystem insisted on equalising the student population. And to a large degree that is still true for the educational system in Paraguay to this day and up into the university level.

For myself, I need so called stimulants, like Yerba-Mate (similar to coffein) and sugar, to help me calm down and concentrate. And I also need to cut down on external "stimuly" or distractions.

Unknown said...

Dirk - think the term you were looking for at the end was 'hyperfocus'. It's impressive to experience, and a touch annoying when you come out of it.

I always found that Adderal (which is my ADD med), or any speed variant is the same thing given for narcolepsy. There was one study that suggested ADD was also linked to sleep behavior. I know whenever I'm on my meds, I sleep very well. When I don't take them, I wake up multiple times, can't sleep, and end up needing 10-12 hours of sorta sleep to feel good.

I remember my first week on meds and thinking 'This is how normal people think?' Are ADD and ADHD real conditions? Yes. Is it massively over diagnosed? Yes. Does it need to be medicated? I don't know, I know I'm less creative when I'm on my meds.

Ok, going to stop before I rant...

Wayne Conrad said...

The author of the article appears to have jumped from correlation to causation. Perhaps people who get depressed start craving junk food.

Dirk said...


Thanks for "hyperfocus". Very descriptive. He also gets like that when building stuff with Legos. He certainly comes up with some creative stuff with 'em sometimes.

My son's the opposite - he can't sleep if he's on his meds. Not usually a problem during the week - we give it to him early enough that it's out of his system by bed time. But it can be a problem if we sleep in on weekends.

As others have noted, ADD meds also suppress appetite. We have to keep telling him "I don't care if you're not hungry, eat anyway." Which, of course, we don't like doing, since we don't want to promote unhealthy eating habits. So, we usually append "remember, your medicine makes you not be hungry" when we tell him to eat.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to confirm what Wayne said. As a lifelong sufferer of depression I get cravings for sweets, particularly chocolate, even while taking antidepressants. Without the meds it is worse.