Consuming Highly Refined Carbohydrates Increases Risk of Depression

July 29, 2015

Consuming Highly Refined Carbohydrates Increases Risk of Depression

NEW YORK, NY, July 29, 2015 - A diet high in refined carbohydrates may lead to an increased risk for new-onset depression in postmenopausal women, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study by James Gangwisch, PhD and colleagues in the department of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) looked at the dietary glycemic index, glycemic load, types of carbohydrates consumed, and depression in data from more than 70,000 postmenopausal women who participated in the National Institutes of Health’s Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study between 1994 and 1998.

Consumption of carbohydrates increases blood sugar levels to varying degrees, depending on the type of food ingested. The more highly refined the carbohydrate, the higher its score on the glycemic index (GI) scale. The GI scale, which goes from 0-100, measures the amount of sugar found in the blood after eating. Refined foods such as white bread, white rice, and soda trigger a hormonal response in the body to reduce blood sugar levels. This response may also cause or exacerbate mood changes, fatigue and other symptoms of depression.

The investigators found that progressively higher dietary GI scores and consumption of added sugars and refined grains were associated with increased risk of new-onset depression in post-menopausal women. Greater consumption of dietary fiber, whole grains, vegetables and non-juice fruits was associated with decreased risk. This suggests that dietary interventions could serve as treatments and preventive measures for depression. Further study is needed to examine the potential of this novel option for treatment and prevention, and to see if similar results are found in the broader population.

The paper is “High Glycemic Index Diet as a Risk Factor for Depression: Analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative.” The authors are James E. Gangwisch, Lauren Hale, Lorena Garcia, Dolores Malaspina, Mark G. Opler, Martha E. Payne, Rebecca C. Rossom, and Dorothy Lane.

Media Contact: Rachel Yarmolinsky, 646-774-5353,

Author Affiliations

Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Department of Psychiatry (JEG); Stony Brook University, Stony Brook Medicine, Program of Public Health and Department of Preventive Medicine (LH); University of California-Davis, School of Medicine, Department of Public Health Sciences (LG); New York University Langone Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry (DM, MGO); Duke University Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development (MEP); Health Partners Institute for Education and Research and the University of Minnesota Medical School, Department of Psychiatry (RCR); Stony Brook University, Stony Brook Medicine, Department of Preventive Medicine (DL)

The authors have declared no conflicts of interest.

Sources of Support: The WHI program is funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through contracts N01WH22110, 24152, 32100-2, 32105-6, 32108-9, 32111-13, 32115, 32118-32119,38 32122, 42107-26, 42129-32, and 44221. Dr. Payne is supported by an NIH Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health (BIRCWH) K12 grant (#HD043446).


Columbia University Department of Psychiatry

Columbia Psychiatry is ranked among the best departments and psychiatric research facilities in the nation and has contributed greatly to the understanding and treatment of psychiatric disorders. Located at the New York State Psychiatric Institute on the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center campus in Washington Heights, the department enjoys a rich and productive collaborative relationship with physicians in various disciplines at Columbia University’s College of Physician’s and Surgeons. Columbia Psychiatry is home to distinguished clinicians and researchers noted for their clinical and research advances in the diagnosis and treatment of depression, suicide, schizophrenia, bipolar and anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and childhood psychiatric disorders. Visit for more information.

Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, preclinical, and clinical research; medical and health sciences education; and patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Columbia University Medical Center is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York City and State and one of the largest faculty medical practices in the Northeast. For more information, visit or



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