Whenever we have a bad day, it’s not uncommon to reach for the nearest sugary comfort food for a quick boost.
But a study published in the journal Scientific Reports has found a concerning link between a diet high in sugar and mood disorders in men.
Tracking the diets and medical conditions of 8,000 people over a span of 22 years, the study followed the diet of participants with surveys and visits to the doctor.
The goal was to probe for a link between what someone eats and their health outcomes — and researchers found that men who eat over 67 grams of sugar a day are 23 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety in a five-year period than men who consumed less than 40 grams. That link was not found in women, and the results for men were independent of socioeconomic status, drinking, smoking, physical activity, body weight or physical health.
Sixty-seven grams of sugar amounts to about six donuts or three average-size chocolate bars, according to Fortune, while two 12-ounce cans of coke contain 78 grams of sugar.
Researchers also looked for a potential reverse effect — that men suffering from anxiety or depression sought out sugar-laden food — but they could find no such connection.
“We found no evidence for a potential reverse effect: participants did not change their sugar intake after suffering from mood disorders, Anika Knüppel, PhD Candidate in Epidemiology and Public Health and the study's lead author, wrote in The Conversation.
Scientists are still unsure exactly what causes depression, but they have some theories. Diets with a lot of sugar and fat can produce a protein called BDNF that might aid development of anxiety and depression, Anika Knüppel wrote. A sugary diet can also cause inflammation, which research has indicated can bring on mood disorders, she adds.
Other reasons for a potential link between sugar and mood disorders could be the addictive nature of sugar or the effect obesity has mental health, she wrote.
People should reduce their daily intake of added sugars to less than 5 percent of their total diet, according to the World Health Organization — but Americans consume triple that amount of sugar, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
It is estimated that one-in-six people worldwide have a mood disorder, Knüppel writes.
That’s why she suggests cutting down on sugar, even if the link between it and anxiety and depression is not yet totally proven.
“Sugar is associated with a number of health problems, including tooth decay, type 2 diabetes and obesity,” she wrote. “So cutting down on sugar is probably a good idea, regardless of whether it causes mood disorders or not.”