Several years ago there was a very popular medication being marketed on TV. The commercial’s introduction made the following declaration:
“You know when you feel the weight of sadness. You may feel exhausted, hopeless and anxious. Whatever you do, you feel lonely and don’t enjoy the things that you once loved.”
This commercial described the feelings of sadness that affects people suffering from depression, but could just as easily describe the effects of trans fats on the human body. New research from Spain reveals that trans fats could be the root cause of depression in some people.
Depression is a common mental disorder that affects more than 350 million people globally. According to the World Health Organization, depression is actually the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the global burden of disease. For these reasons and more, researchers are actively trying to better understand the root causes of depression.
The researchers in Spain wanted to evaluate the relationship between nutrition and depressive disorders, believing that there may be a correlation between depression and the spread of the Western diet to other parts of the world.
The researchers used a questionnaire to estimate the intake of fatty acids and culinary fats consumed by more than 12,000 university graduates. The study concluded that those consuming the most trans fats were 48% more likely to suffer from depression and 42% more likely to develop the condition. In all, study participants reported more than 657 cases of depression.
The fatty acids evaluated were saturated, polyunsaturated, trans-unsaturated, and monounsaturated. The culinary fats included olive oil, seed oils, butter and margarine.
The correlation between high levels of trans fats and depression seen in Spain is very relevant for people living in the United States given that the Spanish follow a Mediterranean diet that is low in trans fats. Americans consume 6.25 times more trans fats than the Spanish, which may translate into a higher incident of food-induced depression. Hydrogenated vegetable oils used in baked goods (e.g., cookies, cakes, pastries) and fried foods (e.g., French fries, chicken, doughnuts) are the primary source of trans fats in the Western diet.
In addition to being linked to depression, trans fats are also a common cause of cardiovascular disease.
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Source: Sánchez-Villegas A, Verberne L, De Irala J, Ruíz-Canela M, Toledo E, et al. (2011) Dietary Fat Intake and the Risk of Depression: The SUN Project. PLoS ONE 6(1): e16268. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016268.