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New UK research has found that eating a diet high in junk food may increase the risk of depression due to raising the level of inflammation in the body.

Carried out by researchers at Manchester Metropolitan's Bioscience Research Centre, the new analysis looked at 11 previous studies which had investigated the link between depression and pro-inflammatory diets.

The studies included a total of 101,950 participants age 16 to 72 years old across the USA, Australia, Europe and the Middle East and recorded the presence of depression or depressive symptoms in all participants using self-reports, medical diagnoses and/or antidepressant use.

All participants also completed questionnaires about their diet and were given a score of how inflammatory the diet was.

The findings, published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, showed that in all of the studies, participants who ate a more pro-inflammatory diet, such as those high in cholesterol, saturated fats and carbohydrates, were around 40 per cent more likely to have depression or depressive symptoms.

The results were also consistent in both males and females and across all ages, and over both short and long follow-up periods, with some participants followed for up to 13 years.

"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," said study author Dr Steven Bradburn.

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

"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 in relation to inflammation."

Inflammation occurs when the body releases proteins, antibodies and increased blood-flow to areas affected by infections, injuries, and toxins in an effort to defend and protect itself.

However, chronic inflammation has been found to have a negative effect on health and linked to diseases such as cancer, asthma and heart disease.

Also read: 5 healthy snacks to try instead of popcorn

An anti-inflammatory diet contains plenty of fibre, vitamins -- especially A, C, D -- and unsaturated fats. The popular Mediterranean diet, which includes olive oil, tomatoes, green vegetables and fatty fish, is a good example, with the researchers suggesting that this diet could be followed to potentially lower the risk of depression. 

A US study published earlier this year also found that the DASH diet, which is similar to the Mediterranean diet, and is high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and encourages nuts and beans, lean meats, fish and poultry rather than saturated fats and sugar, may also reduce the risk of depression. Those who adhered to the diet most showed an 11 per cent lower risk than those who adhered the least. 

Also read: Why does unhealthy food feel so good?

In contrast, those who followed a Western diet most closely, which is high in saturated fats and red meats and low in fruits and vegetables, were more likely to develop depression.


Image: Shutterstock

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