Fiber may lower depression risk in premenopausal women

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Fiber is an important part of any healthy diet. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that adults consume 25-30 grams of fiber per day. Unfortunately, most Americans only eat about half that amount. This is one reason why many are at a higher risk for obesity, gut disorders, heart disease, and even some cancers. A recent study finds getting the right amount of fiber may also play a role in reducing depression as well.

Researchers in Korea used Korea National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey data to determine whether fiber intake has a link to depression in women. They found an especially strong link between fiber intake and depression in premenopausal women.

Depression is a debilitating condition that affects women more than men. Some people think hormone fluctuations in women, especially during menopause, may be responsible for higher depression rates in females. Previous studies have suggested that dietary fiber, found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, can protect against depression. This, however, is the first study to link fiber consumption and depression in women in various stages of menopause.

The link between a woman’s gut and the brain

The study authors analyzed health data from 5,800 women of various ages, weights, and menopause stages. They used 24-hour diet recall to determine fiber intake and Patient Health Questionnaire-9 scores to determine depression status. Using statistical models, the team then crunched the numbers to determine whether there’s a pattern between fiber intake and depression.

The researchers discovered a very strong correlation between decreased fiber consumption and depression in premenopausal women. They did not find any link between fiber and depression in postmenopausal women. Study authors suspect this is because estrogen is lower in postmenopausal women and propose a link to gut microbes. Other research has shown that gut microbes can affect gut-brain interactions and may play a role in depression. Studies also find that estrogen levels can affect gut microbes.

Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director at the North American Menopause Association, is excited about the research. She is also careful to point out that it doesn’t mean fiber can completely prevent depression symptoms in women.

“The direction of the association is unclear in this observational study, such that women with better mental health may have had a healthier diet and consumed more fiber, or a higher dietary fiber intake may have contributed to improved brain health by modulating the gut microbiome or some combination,” Faubion says in a media release.

“Nonetheless, it has never been more true that ‘you are what you eat,’ given that what we eat has a profound effect on the gut microbiome which appears to play a key role in health and disease.”

These findings are published in Menopause.

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