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A recent study found that sweet snacks were associated with depression in men, but not women. Does sugar have special powers to bum men out? Probably not. Let’s dig in.
The Headline: Eating Too Much Sugar Is Linked to Depression in Men, Poor Things (Science of Us)
The Story: This study is part of a project that explores mood and well-being in people who are overweight. There have been a few studies in the past suggesting a link between sugar and depression — for example, this one found that students who eat lots of unhealthy foods are more likely to be depressed…or the other way around.
This new study, published in Scientific Reports, looked at a long-term study of British office workers to try to rule out whether depressed people might be seeking out comfort foods. In that case, the depression would show up first, with sugary food intake coming later. They didn’t find that pattern.
But when they looked for evidence for the other way around, that sugary food leads to depression, the results were shaky. Yes, the men with the highest sugar intakes had an increased risk of depression. But as part of the study, the researchers asked a lot of questions and didn’t find a link for most of them. For example, they used two different questionnaires to decide if people were depressed. At any given time point — looking for people who are depressed and eating lots of sugar at the same time — one of the tests found a link but the other did not. People with the highest sugar intake were also the least likely to be overweight, which doesn’t match up with what we know about sugar and obesity.
The study also included twice as many men as women, which could explain the gender bias in the one result they did find. Maybe sugar affects both men and women, but the study didn’t have enough women to confirm that. Or maybe the finding in men is a fluke, and there’s really no link. When a study asks a lot of different questions, as this one did, it’s common to find results by chance that wouldn’t hold up in a larger, more focused study. I fear that may be what happened here.
The Takeaway: This study is a hint to researchers that there might be a link between sugar and depression, and it might be stronger in men. But it definitely didn’t prove that.