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Eating fried food, especially fried potatoes such as French fries, may increase the risk of depression and anxiety, a study finds. J.R. PHOTOGRAPHY/Stocksy
  • Researchers investigated the effects of fried foods on depression and anxiety.
  • They found that regular consumption of fried foods is linked to higher levels of depression and anxiety in humans.
  • Further studies are needed to understand the underlying mechanisms of these effects.

Anxiety and depression are the most prevalent mental disorders worldwide.

Fried foods are a major part of the Western diet and are increasing worldwide. Previous studies have found that consuming fried or processed foods, sugary products, and beer is linked to a higher risk of depression and anxiety.

Research also shows that the frying process may change the nutrient composition of foods and produce harmful chemicals. Frying carbohydrates such as potatoes, for example, generate acrylamide, which has been linked to obesity, metabolic syndrome, and neurological disorders.

Until now, few studies have investigated how acrylamide may affect anxiety and depression. Further investigation of this link could inform public health policy and dietary interventions for mental health conditions.

Recently, researchers investigated the link between fried foods consumption and depression and anxiety. They found that fried food consumption, especially fried potatoes, is linked to an increased risk of anxiety and depression.

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They further found that acrylamide plays an important role in the development of anxiety and depression in adult zebrafish.

The study was published in the journalPNAS.

To begin, the researchers analyzed data from 140,728 people from the UK Biobank. Data included fried food consumption and incidence of anxiety and depression during an average follow-up period of 11.3 years.

By the end of the study period, the researchers identified 8,294 cases of anxiety and 12,735 cases of depression.

Overall, they found that those consuming more than one serving of fried food per day had a 12% higher risk of anxiety and a 7% higher risk for depression than non-consumers.

Frequent consumers of fried food were most likely to be males, younger and active smokers.

Next, the researchers investigated possible mechanisms for the link between fried food and depression and anxiety.

To do so, they observed how chronic exposure to acrylamide affected zebrafish over time. They found that exposing fish to low concentrations of acrylamide induced anxiety-like and depression-like behavior.

From further tests, the researchers found that acrylamide reduced lipid metabolism, induced neuroinflammation, and impaired the permeability of the blood-brain barrier.

MNT spoke with Dr. Michael J. McGrath, board certified psychiatrist and Medical Director of the Ohana Luxury Alcohol Rehab, not involved in the study, about the link between fried foods, depression, and anxiety. He noted that other factors beyond acrylamide may explain the effects of fried food on mental health.

He noted, for example, that as the study did not find a causal link, it may be the case that those who eat more fried foods have a higher risk for depression and anxiety or that those with the conditions are more likely to turn to fried foods.

Janet Lydecker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, also not involved in the study, told MNT that it remains unknown whether fried food consumption may be part of a larger picture, ie. whether people ate sugary sauces with fried foods or ate more fried foods while doing certain activities which may have exerted other effects on the brain.

When asked about the study’s limitations, Dr. Felix Spiegel, a bariatric surgeon with Memorial Hermann in Houston, not involved in the study, told MNT:

“The limitation of this study is that it is retrospective and does not control for many variables. In other words, many people were surveyed regarding their intake of fried foods. Those with higher intakes tended to have more anxiety and depression symptoms”

“However, they also were more likely to be less educated, have more obesity and medical problems, and lower income levels. These other differences could be causing higher levels of depression and anxiety and not fried food intake alone,” Dr. Spiegel explained.

“To really prove causation, you would need to take a large group of very similar people. Feed half the group more fried foods, and half less. If more anxiety and depression occurs in high fried foods going forward, then you have your proof so-to-speak,” he noted.

MNT spoke with Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, Medical Toxicologist, Co-Medical Director, and Interim Executive Director at the National Capital Poison Center, not involved in the study, about whether there are any foods that may benefit or prevent depression and anxiety.

“There are no specific foods that have been proven to treat or prevent depression or anxiety,” said Dr. Johnson-Arbor. “However, the Mediterranean diet, which includes consumption of vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains, is associated with lower levels of C-reactive protein compared with the ‘Western’ diet.”

“Since C-reactive protein is associated with inflammation, lower levels of C-reactive protein may have a favorable impact on the development of depression, anxiety, and other conditions affected by inflammation,” she added.

MNT spoke with Dr. Spiegel about the study’s implications. He said:

“Implications of this study are that higher levels of intake of fried foods, especially potatoes, cause increased levels of acrylamides in the blood. The higher levels of this toxin cause distinctions of nerve cell function in the brain and [may] cause depression and anxiety. The results are more pronounced in younger people.”

“The take home message is that intake of fried foods such as French fries, hash browns, bacon and others, should be limited to rare occasions. I would recommend no more than one serving per month. Regular consumption could lead to increased anxiety and depression and many other health problems,” he concluded.