Is Your Diet Leading You Toward Depression?

donutsResearchers from Columbia University Medical Center in New York recently determined that a diet high in refined carbohydrates increases the risk of depression in postmenopausal women by 22 percent—and 23 percent if you factor in added sugars.

Dr. James Gangwisch and his colleagues examined the health data for roughly 70,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79, compiled as part of the National Institutes of Health Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. By focusing on glycemic index scores and comparing them to diet as well as rates of depression, they discovered that eating a lot of highly refined carbs and added sugars (like those found in white bread, white rice, snack foods, and sugary drinks) increases the risk for depression later in life.

Glycemic index, or GI, measures the amount of sugar in the bloodstream after eating. Study authors explain that in addition to triggering a sharp rise in blood sugar (and, as a result, elevated GI scores) highly refined carbohydrates cause a hormonal response in the body that results in mood changes, fatigue, and other symptoms of depression. In previous studies, a diet high in refined carbs and sugars has been linked to increased inflammation, which is also a risk factor for depression.

On a positive note, researchers observed that women who ate more dietary fiber—especially in the form of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains—and who avoided sugary beverages were less likely to develop depression after menopause, suggesting that dietary changes may play an important role in the prevention and treatment of depressive disorders.


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Studying the Microbiome in Space

spaceWhat do gut bacteria and outer space have in common? More than you might think. Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) are currently studying how space travel and zero-gravity living affect the trillions of microbes living in and around the digestive tract—many of which play a role in optimal digestion and health.

As part of the ongoing Microbiome experiment, participating crew members will provide blood, saliva, and gastrointestinal samples to help researchers assess the status of their bacterial populations before, during, and after space flight. Immune health and stress levels will also be monitored, along with the impact of nutrition and diet on the ISS.

Knowing that extreme environments can cause changes in bacterial populations, scientists hope to understand more about the impact of those changes on human health. For example, can long-term space travel deplete our stores of good bacteria and leave us vulnerable to infection and poor health? Answering this and other questions may help future astronauts as well as people who live and work in similar environments here on Earth.

And speaking of astronauts and gut health, a new study published in this month’s FASEB Journal suggests that extreme conditions like living in zero gravity may lead to a higher risk of developing inflammatory bowel diseases. When mice were subjected to an environment similar to that experienced during space travel, both gut bacteria balance and immune function were altered significantly, resulting in colitis (inflammation of the large intestine, or bowel).


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