Bad news for french fries lovers: Its consumption may lead to depression

New study claims eating fried foods is linked to a 12 percent higher risk of anxiety and a 7 percent higher risk of depression.
Sejal Sharma
Fried foods may lead to depression and anxiety
Fried foods may lead to depression and anxiety


We all know fried food is unhealthy but tastes so good. French fries, churros, fried chicken, jalebi. Yum! But excessive consumption of the above leads to weight mismanagement. We’re also looking at a high risk of heart attack and coronary artery failure, and now we’re learning - an increased risk of depression and anxiety.

A new study demonstrates that long-term exposure to acrylamide, an organic compound found in potato chips, crackers, bread, cookies, coffee, etc., induces depressive behaviors and anxiety.

The research team from Hangzhou, China, based their findings on studying a population size of 140,728. The study revealed that frequent consumption, especially fried potato consumption, is strongly associated with a 12 percent higher risk of anxiety and a 7 percent higher risk of depression. Another interesting revelation was that the male population and younger consumers are more prone to developing these mental health issues.

The research was conducted over 11 years and excluded participants diagnosed with depression within the first two years of the study. A total of 8,294 cases of anxiety and 12,735 cases of depression were found in those that consumed fried food. Those who consumed fried potatoes were found to have an increased risk of depression by 2 percent over those who consumed fried white meat.

CNN spoke to experts regarding the study's findings, who said that the results are preliminary, and it’s unclear if fried foods are indeed driving mental health issues. The study could also not establish if people experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety turned to fried foods. However, another study published in 2020 claims that depression and anxiety can determine a person’s food intake. The term 'emotional eating' has been widely used to refer to overeating to cope with one’s emotions, with the chosen food items being energy-dense and palatable.

According to the latest estimates by the World Health Organization, approximately 3.8 percent of the global population suffers from depression in 2023. The author of the study and researcher at Zhejiang University, Yu Zhang, spoke to CNN and said, "There is no need to panic about the adverse effects of fried food.” He added that maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle and reducing fried food consumption help manage mental health.

Study abstract:

Western dietary patterns have been unfavorably linked with mental health. However, the long-term effects of habitual fried food consumption on anxiety and depression and underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Our population-based study with 140,728 people revealed that frequent fried food consumption, especially fried potato consumption, is strongly associated with 12% and 7% higher risk of anxiety and depression, respectively. The associations were more pronounced among male and younger consumers. Consistently, long-term exposure to acrylamide, a representative food processing contaminant in fried products, exacerbates scototaxis and thigmotaxis, and further impairs exploration ability and sociality of adult zebrafish, showing anxiety- and depressive-like behaviors. Moreover, treatment with acrylamide significantly down-regulates the gene expression of tjp2a related to the permeability of blood–brain barrier. Multiomics analysis showed that chronic exposure to acrylamide induces cerebral lipid metabolism disturbance and neuroinflammation. PPAR signaling pathway mediates acrylamide-induced lipid metabolism disorder in the brain of zebrafish. Especially, chronic exposure to acrylamide dysregulates sphingolipid and phospholipid metabolism, which plays important roles in the development of anxiety and depression symptoms. In addition, acrylamide promotes lipid peroxidation and oxidation stress, which participate in cerebral neuroinflammation. Acrylamide dramatically increases the markers of lipid peroxidation, including (±)5-HETE, 11(S)-HETE, 5-oxoETE, and up-regulates the expression of proinflammatory lipid mediators such as (±)12-HETE and 14(S)-HDHA, indicating elevated cerebral inflammatory status after chronic exposure to acrylamide. Together, these results both epidemiologically and mechanistically provide strong evidence to unravel the mechanism of acrylamide-triggered anxiety and depression, and highlight the significance of reducing fried food consumption for mental health.

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