Eating foods rich in refined carbohydrates can potentially lead post-menopausal women to become more susceptible to new-onset depression, according to a new study conducted by the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC).

Dr. James Gangwisch, a researcher at CUMC's psychiatry department, led a team of fellow scientists in examining medical data collected from 70,000 postmenopausal women included in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, from 1994 to 1998.

The researchers identified the participants' glycemic load, their dietary glycemic index and even the types of carbohydrates they typically consume. They also measured the level of depression that the women experience throughout the duration of the study.

As individuals consume more carbohydrates, the level of their blood sugar also increases by varying points, depending on the food type that they ingest. The more a particular carbohydrate is refined, the higher its score is based on the scale for glycemic index (GI).

The glycemic index, which features a measurement of zero to 100, helps identify the amount of sugar present in a person's blood after eating a meal.

Foods with refined carbohydrates, such as soda, white bread and white rice, trigger a response in the hormones that helps reduce the levels of blood sugar in the body. This response, however, can also lead to an exacerbation of fatigue, mood changes and other symptoms typically associated with depression.

Gangwisch and his team discovered that increasingly higher dietary scores on the GI scale, as well as the consumption of refined grains and added sugar were linked to an increase in the risk of developing new-onset depression among women going through their post-menopausal stage.

The findings also showed that a greater intake of vegetables, whole grains, non-juice fruits and dietary fiber were connected to a decrease in depression risk.

The researchers believe that dietary interventions can help treat people diagnosed with depression, as well as prevent the symptoms of the condition from developing.

Gangwisch and his colleagues noted that further research is required to explore the possibility of using the study's findings to develop treatment and preventive measures for depression, and to determine whether a broad population study would produce similar results.

The findings of the Columbia University Medical Center study are featured in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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