According to a new study, people who consume an unhealthy diet are more likely to suffer from depression. So, if you’re trying to watch your waistline, you may also want to watch your mental health.
The research from Macquarie University analyzed data from 169 adults aged 17 to 35 and found that those who consumed a Western-style diet were more likely to have lower levels of kynurenic acid (KA). This small molecule is essential for several bodily functions.
Previous studies have shown that Western-style diets that are high in fat, sugar, and processed foods are associated with an increased risk of depression. However, this is the first time a biological link showing the kynurenine pathway has been established.
The link between depression and food may be in how the body produces important molecules and metabolites necessary to keep it functioning. For example, the amino acid tryptophan, found in foods like dairy products, poultry, oats, nuts, and seeds, is broken down into metabolites. These metabolites are used to protect the brain, regulate behavior, and control inflammation, which is linked to diseases including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and dementia.
In breaking down the tryptophan, the body produces serotonin and melatonin. Or it can be processed by the kynurenic pathway, which creates KA and other essential metabolites linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
This new study is the first time that anyone has been able to show that a Western-style diet has an effect on the way tryptophan is metabolized in healthy young people. As with most metabolites, the level of KA in the body can be problematic. Too little KA is associated with depression, but too much has been linked with schizophrenia.
Healthy levels of KA are essential for reducing the risk of depression, and this new research shows the importance of food in the regulation of this metabolite. Regular physical activity is also vital for healthy KA levels.
So, if you’re feeling down, it may be time to increase your exercise routine, overhaul your diet, and reach for some fresh fruits and vegetables instead.
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