Thursday, January 10, 2013

Can Soda Cause Depression?


Soda and other sugary drinks may contribute to depression risk.
Soda and other sugary drinks may contribute to depression risk.
Image: dgirlp via Flickr CC

According to a recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), drinking soda and other sugary drinks may put you at a higher risk for developing depression. What’s more is that if that drink is flavored with artificial sweetener, the risk is even higher. The study, which has been ongoing since 1995, surveyed the drink consumption of over 250,000 people between the ages of 50 and 71.

Participants in the study who drank 4+ sodas per day were 30% more likely to have developed depression.
Participants in the study who drank 4+ sodas per day
were 30% more likely to have developed depression.
Image: Shutterstock
After gathering data on the participants’ drinking habits from 1995 until 1996, researchers waited a decade and then contacted those surveyed again. They asked whether participants had been diagnosed with depression since the year 2000. The findings, which won’t be officially published by the American Academy of Neurology until mid-March, showed that participants who drank four or more cans of soda per day had a 30 percent increased likelihood of developing depression. Those who drank unsweetened coffee for a boost rather than soda were 10 percent less likely to have developed depression.

"Our research suggests that cutting out or down on sweetened diet drinks or replacing them with unsweetened coffee may naturally help lower your depression risk," said Honglei Chen, lead researcher for the study. "More research is needed to confirm these findings, and people with depression should continue to take depression medications prescribed by their doctors."

Unsweetened coffee may lower depression risk.
Unsweetened coffee may lower depression risk.
Image: Christian Scholz via Flickr CC
Aside from the fact that sugar has been linked to obesity (and therefore the hardening of arteries and heart disease), increased “bad” cholesterol, reduced “good” cholesterol, tooth decay, gum disease, hyperactivity, and mood swings—to name a few—this indication that it may also contribute to depression is just one more reason to limit our intake of refined sugar and sweeteners.

While this study is alarming, it should also be taken with a grain of salt. It’s likely that those who were diagnosed with depression were also struggling with other problems as well. Four cans of soda or more per day almost certainly leads to obesity and other health problems, which in turn affect stress levels and brain health. Those who had increased chances for developing depression were drinking sodas in excess and probably weren't the most health conscious about what they put into their bodies.

Don’t feel too guilty about having a soda once in a while. If you normally eat healthy and are aware of what's going into your body, indulging at times is okay. It’s when it becomes a regular, large part of your diet that it becomes a health concern—in more than one way. But I think you already knew that.


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