People who eat large amounts of sugar, for example in the form of sweetened foods, pastries, and soft drinks, run an increased risk of mental disorders. According to a major new British study.

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The results, published in Scientific Reports, are based on analyses of a group of 8,087 men and women between the ages of 39 and 83 years of age.

The group is part of the so-called Whitehall study, where researchers investigated the factors behind various diseases among British civil servants. The study, which has been ongoing since 1967, has examined the effects of various diets.

Now, researchers have specifically examined the impact of the diet for mental health and among men with the highest sugar intake, the risk increase was 23 percent.

They establish that a high sugar intake can cause certain risks. They found no evidence of the reverse relationship – that people who already have mental disorders tend to increase their sugar intake. Thereby shedding light on the potential aspects of correlation versus causation.

The researchers, who work at University College in London, also note that people in Anglo-Saxon countries tend to eat especially ‘bad’ diets. According to the British National Health Service, an adult should not eat more than 30 grams of added sugar per day, but on average, the British eat about twice as much per person – and the Americans three times as much.

The results suggest that a relatively high sugar intake leads to increased risks of depression, and other mental disorders included within the definition known as Common Mental Disorders (CMD), such as anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive thoughts and stress symptoms.


Anika Knüppel, Martin J. Shipley, Clare H. Llewellyn & Eric J. Brunner Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 6287 (2017) doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05649-7