Diet Soda and Depression

  The Connection Between Diet Drinks and Depression

Calorie-free drinks are not necessarily risk free. A new study has found a link between drinking diet soda or diet fruit drinks and an increased risk of depression.

The study researchers analyzed information from more than 263,900 U.S. adults ages 50 to 71 who answered questions about their beverage consumption between the years 1995 and 1996. About 10 years later (from 2004 to 2006), the same people were asked if a doctor had diagnosed them with depression since the year 2000.

People who regularly drank four or more cans of any type of soda a day were 30 percent more likely to have received a diagnosis of depression than people who did not drink soda. The risk of depression was especially high for people who drank diet soda -  a 31 percent increased risk compared to a 22 percent increased risk for those who drank regular soda, the researchers said.

Those who drank four or more cans of diet fruit drinks were 51 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression compared to those who did not drink diet fruit drinks.

By contrast, people who drank four or more cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to have been diagnosed with depression compared to non-coffee drinkers.

The study only found an association, and did not determine whether or not diet soda or fruit drinks caused depression. Although the researchers took into account factors that could affect the results, such as age, sex, education, smoking status, physical activity, body mass index (BMI) and energy intake, it's possible other circumstances, such as a family history of depression or stressful life events, could explain the association.

A family history of depression and stressful life events are some of the biggest predictors of depression, said Emma Robertson-Blackmore, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who was not involved in the study. In addition, older people are more likely to experience stressful life events, including the death of a loved one, job changes or illnesses, Robertson-Blackmore said.

However, the findings agree with those of a few previous studies that found a link between frequent consumption of sweetened beverages and a higher prevalence of depression, the researchers said. (Diet sodas and fruit drinks are sweetened, but their sweeteners contain no calories.)

"More research is needed to confirm these findings, and people with depression should continue to take depression medications prescribed by their doctors," said study researcher Dr. Honglei Chen, of the National Institutes of Health.

The results also back up findings from a study published in 2011, which found a link between coffee consumption and a reduced risk of depression in women.

Drinking coffee may lower women's risk of depression, a new study says.

Women in the study who drank two to three cups of caffeinated coffee a day were 15 percent less likely to develop depression over a 10-year period compared to those who drank one cup of coffee or less per week.

The researchers cautioned, however, that the new study only shows an association between coffee consumption and depression risk and cannot prove that drinking coffee reduces risk of depression in women.

The study, which included more than 50,000 women in the United States, is the largest of its kind, the researchers, from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said.

The findings are in line with earlier studies that have found a link between moderate coffee consumption and a reduced risk of suicide.

Participants were followed from 1996 to 2006 to see whether they were diagnosed with depression. None of the participants had depression at the study's start. Women were considered depressed if they had been given a diagnosis of clinical depression by their physician and they started taking antidepressants.

Over the 10-year period, 2,607 new cases of depression were reported. Women who drank four or more cups of coffee per day were 20 percent less likely to develop depression than those who drank one or fewer cups of coffee per week.

No link was found between consumption of decaffeinated coffee and depression.

Some individuals who consume caffeine experience sleep disturbances, insomnia or anxiety. It's possible that women with a history of depression, or women who are predisposed to depression, know about these side effects and reduce their caffeine consumption, the researchers said.

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