Could indulging in a pint of ice cream to feel better actually make you feel worse?

By Elisabeth Sherman
Updated July 28, 2017
Sugar depression study
Credit: Maximilian Stock Ltd. / Getty Images

A 30-year study released yesterday in Scientific Reports has linked overindulging in sugar to a higher chance of developing mental health issues, like depression.

Researchers called this study the “the first to investigate the association of sugar consumption from sweet food/beverages with…mood disorders, while also examining the effect these disorders might have on subsequent habitual sugar intake.”

The University College of London began conducting their Whitehall II study in 1985, with a group of 10,000 British people ages 35-55. Researchers paid special attention to their diets, in particular how many cakes and cookies they ate, and the amount of sugar they added to their tea and coffee.

The participants were then given a survey throughout different phases of the study, which evaluated them for symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other “common mental disorders” (referred to as CMD).

The researchers found that, “an increased likelihood for incident CMD in men and some evidence of recurrent depression in both sexes with higher intakes of sugar from sweet food/beverages.”

In short, the study’s subjects who ate the most sugar were also the most likely to be depressed.

To be fair, the study also looked as a series of other factors, including smoking, age, ethnicity, and marital status, in addition to how much sugar subjects ate, to determine if anything else might be contributing to their depression. Men who were divorced, widowed, smoked, and didn’t get enough sleep, were, unsurprisingly, more likely to be depressed.

According to Newsweek, there are some scientists who are critical of the study. A spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, for instance, pointed out to France 24 that the study did not take natural sugars found in milk, for instance, into account when measuring a person’s sugar intake.

Most people already know cutting down on sugar will make you physically healthier, but this study doesn’t necessarily prove doing so will also make you mentally healthier. A study linking eating too much sugar with depression doesn’t mean that eating sugar causes depression. That extra doughnut in the morning is probably not doing your heart any favors, but science still has a long way to go before it proves it’s also effecting your mood.