Junk Food Diet Linked To Depression

Written by Jim Folk
Written by Jim Folk
Written by Jim Folk
Last updated June 23, 2021
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You are what you eat isn’t just a nice saying. It’s true! Your body’s health is maintained based on the foods you eat. If you are eating a healthy diet of fresh and whole foods, your body will have the necessary nutrients required to keep it healthy. If, however, your diet is comprised of fast and high-sugar foods that lack healthy nutrients, your body will be missing many of the essential ingredients required to sustain good health. This can lead to physical health issues over time.

Not only do the foods we eat affect our physical health but they also affect our mental health. For instance, recent research has found a link between depression and a junk food diet. This isn’t the first research to find this correlation. Previous studies have also found a link between an unhealthy diet and mental illness, including depression and anxiety.[1][2][3]

Even though researchers have said it’s not clear if a junk food diet leads to depression or if depression leads to eating an unhealthy diet, the relationship between the two is substantial. Based on our experiences with anxiety and depression, a healthy diet isn’t the cause of depression or anxiety but can contribute to the development and persistence of symptoms. Making healthy dietary change can reduce depression and anxiety symptoms.

Furthermore, depression and anxiety have been linked to inflammation problems due to how chronic stress, including the stress caused by depression and anxiety, adversely affects the body’s inflammation response.[4][5][6][7] Eating an unhealthy diet, such as junk food, high sugar foods, and stimulants, stress the body, which can contribute to inflammation problems. Chronic inflammation is linked to disease development, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and multiple sclerosis, to name a few.[8][9] Eating a healthy diet can reduce the body’s stress load causing a reduction in inflammation.

Research continues to demonstrate the many physical and mental health benefits of eating a healthy diet.[10][11][12] In addition to its many health benefits, making healthy dietary change can play an important role in overcoming issues with depression and anxiety, and certainly in symptom reduction and elimination.

You can read the latest research below:

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Junk food diet raises depression risk, researchers

Manchester Metropolitan University

A diet of fast food, cakes and processed meat increases your risk of depression, according to researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University.

A paper from Manchester Metropolitan’s Bioscience Research Centre found that eating a diet containing foods which are known to promote inflammation – such as those high in cholesterol, saturated fats and carbohydrates – makes you around 40% more likely to develop depression.

The researchers analysed data from 11 existing studies that focused on the link between depression and pro-inflammatory diets – encompassing more than 100,000 participants of varied age (16-72 years old), gender and ethnicity, spanning the USA, Australia, Europe and the Middle East.

All the studies recorded the presence of depression or depressive symptoms in the participants (through self-observation, medical diagnoses and/or antidepressant use), alongside a detailed questionnaire about the contents of their diet.

Each participant was assigned a score of how inflammatory his or her diet is, according to the dietary inflammatory index.

Some of the studies were cross-sectional, using data that was immediately available, and other studies tracked participants for up to 13 years.

Across all studies, participants who had a more pro-inflammatory diet were, on average, 1.4 times more likely to have depression or depressive symptoms.

The results were consistent regardless of age or gender – and were the same over both short and long follow-up periods.

Dr. Steven Bradburn is from the Bioscience Research Centre at Manchester Metropolitan’s School of Healthcare Science. He said:

“These results have tremendous clinical potential for the treatment of depression, and if it holds true, other diseases such as Alzheimer’s which also have an underlying inflammatory component.

“Simply changing what we eat may be a cheaper alternative to pharmacological interventions, which often come with side-effects.

“This work builds on recent advances in the field by others, including the first ever clinical trial into dietary interventions for treating depression, which have shown beneficial improvements in depressive symptoms.

“It should be stressed, however, that our findings are an association, rather than causality. Further work is needed to confirm the efficacy of modulating dietary patterns in treating depression with relation to inflammation.”

An anti-inflammatory diet—containing more fibre, vitamins (especially A, C, D) and unsaturated fats—has the opposite effect, and could be implemented as a treatment for depression.

Therefore, a Mediterranean diet of olive oil, tomatoes, green vegetables and fatty fish could help lower depressive symptoms.

Inflammation is the body’s natural defence system against infections, injuries and toxins. In order to protect itself from harm, the body releases proteins, antibodies and increased blood-flow to affected areas, causing redness and swelling.

However, chronic inflammation puts the body in a constant state of alert and has previously been linked to diseases such as cancer, asthma and heart disease. Such persistent inflammation, particularly in the brain, is believed to contribute to neuronal death.

The research, ‘An anti-inflammatory diet as a potential intervention for depressive disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis’, is published in Clinical Nutrition.

Disclaimer: anxietycentre.com is not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted at anxietycentre.com by contributing institutions or for the use of that information throughout anxietycentre.com’s system.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including Junk Food Diet Linked To Depression.


1. Freeman, Bill. “Junk Foods Cause 'Mental Illness'.” WorldHealth, 24 Jan. 2006, www.worldhealth.net/news/junk_foods_cause_mental_illness/
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3. Campbell, Denis. “Eating Junk Food Raises Risk of Depression, Says Multi-Country Study.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 25 Sept. 2018, www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/26/eating-junk-food-raises-risk-of-depression-says-multi-country-study.
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