Fast Food Linked with Depression in Teens

Although the fast-food industry may undergoing a kind of evolution motivated by more health-conscious consumers, it still relies heavily on cheap and convenient food often filled with fat calories and salt.  Many of these foods are fried, which makes them quite tasty, but also exposes those who frequently rely on it for sustenance could be at a potentially higher risk for a handful of health issues. 

New research suggests that these increasingly larger portions of perfectly fried foods might have a more pronounced, direct effect on the brain than we might have realized.  Sure, we know that too much of the wrong kinds of fat and cholesterol—common among fast food—is bad for your heart, but this is the first time studies have focused on this type of consumption’s effect on the brain. 

Specifically, this study identified that the accumulation of a specific—and, unfortunately, common—nutrient that is found in cheap (but delicious) fast food might be associated with higher instances of depression, at least in teenagers.  

Examining the urine samples of 84 African-American teenagers, in Alabama, found high levels of sodium and low levels of potassium excreted during urination. Studies tell us that teens who demonstrate these opposing levels of high sodium and low potassium (in their urine) appear to also experience more frequent symptoms of depression within the year.  

While a simple urine test is easy to come by, the researchers go further to tell us that these high-sodium and low-potassium levels indicate the consumption of foods that exhibit these “nutrition” profiles.  Specifically, the research expresses that these diets are high in processed foods (like fast food and frozen meals or other salty snacks) and very low in fresh fruits and vegetables.  

According to lead study author Sylvie Mrug, PhD, this informs us that there is a definite connection between diet and emotional health that may not be immediately apparent. The University of Alabama-Birmingham department of psychology chair goes on to say, “We hear a lot about the impact of diet on obesity and other health outcomes, but this work also shows that diet is important for emotional well-being, which then affects all areas of people’s lives.”

Of course, this is a small and limited study so more thorough research must be conducted to get a better idea of the relationship on a more general human scale.