Sugary Drinks May Increase Risk Of Depression

1/9/13 11:39AM EST

sugary drinks Sugary Drinks May Increase Risk Of Depression

Image via Flickr/ gilly youner

Soft drinks have already been linked to ailments such as heart attacks, brittle bones, pancreatic cancer and, of course, weight gain and diabetes. But a new study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting suggests sweetened drinks such as soda, fruit punch and sweet tea are associated with an increased risk of depression. Meanwhile, coffee drinkers show a decreased depression risk.

The study, conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Health in Research Triangle Park, N.C., monitored almost 264,000 people aged 50 to 71 enrolled in an AARP diet and health study. Participants were asked about their beverage-drinking habits as part of a dietary survey when the study began in 1995 and 1996. Ten years later they were asked if they had been diagnosed with depression in the past five years. At the end of the study period 11,311 people had been diagnosed with depression.

Researchers found that participants who consumed more than four cans or cups of diet soda per day had a 30 percent higher risk of depression. Depression risk increased to 38 percent when fruit punch was consumed. The risk was even higher in those who drank diet soft drinks.

Our research suggests that cutting out or down on sweetened diet drinks or replacing them with unsweetened coffee may naturally help lower your depression risk,” study researcher Dr. Honglei Chen, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health in Research Triangle Park, said in a statement. “More research is needed to confirm these findings, and people with depression should continue to take depression medications prescribed by their doctors.”

Researchers point out, however, that while the study found an association between sugary drinks and depression, it does not point to a cause and effect relationship. While it’s certainly possible the drinks increased the risk of depression, it’s just as likely that those who were already depressed were more likely to seek out the sugary drinks.

Contrary to findings related to sweetened drinks, however, participants who stuck to coffee had a 10 percent lower risk of depression. Possibly, Chen said, because coffee’s high caffeine content stimulates the brain.