Depression vs. The Sads
Can I be blunt? Most people who think they're depressed probably aren't. They're just sad sometimes. And that's okay. Bad things happens. Life isn't fair. The Game of Thrones finale was disappointing.
Problem is, these folks seek out prescription drugs – side-effect packed pharmaceuticals meant for the clinically depressed – which some docs pass out like fun-sized Snickers bars in a nice neighborhood on Halloween.
Only about 6 percent of Americans are said to suffer from true depression, yet 13 percent of the population is drugged for it... and that number is rising fast.
Or maybe it's even simpler than that. Maybe depressive symptoms are triggered in part by skipping breakfast.
Japanese researchers wanted to figure out the relationship between breakfast and depressive symptoms, so they gathered up 716 factory workers for a study.
First the participants were asked about how often they ate breakfast. Their choices were:
- Every day
- 5-6 times per week
- 3–4 times per week
- 1–2 times per week
- Almost never
Then they were given a test that looked for the common signs of depression. Stuff like...
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Loss of interest in daily activities, including sex and hobbies
- Appetite or weight changes (loss or gain)
- Sleep changes (insomnia or chronic oversleeping)
- Anger or irritability
- Loss of energy
- Reckless behavior
- Concentration issues
- Unexplained aches and pains
The participants were then tracked for three years. At the end of the study, they took the test over again.
Short answer: The researchers found a significant link between skipping breakfast and developing depressive symptoms.
The breakfast skippers had much higher rates of depression after the three-year period. Those who ate breakfast daily were the least likely to suffer from depression.
Basically, the lower the frequency of breakfast eating, the higher the risk for depressive symptoms.
The scientists had a couple of ideas. First, eating breakfast might protect against excess cortisol, which has been linked to depression in previous research.
Our cortisol levels are naturally higher in the morning. That's part of what wakes us up. Eating soon after we wake lowers these cortisol levels. If you skip breakfast, cortisol levels stay too high for too long.
Eating breakfast daily also helps regulate our circadian rhythms. Other studies have shown a clear link between clinical depression and a dysfunctional body clock.
Depression is a complex problem. Although prevention and treatment isn't as simple as "eat breakfast," that practice does seem to play a role in decreasing your chances of experiencing it.
In the fitness world, intermittent fasting (which typically involves skipping breakfast) is often encouraged as a means to lower daily calorie intake, even though it doesn't work any better or any faster for fat loss than other reduced-calorie diets that include breakfast.
Given the mental health risks, I'd skip the fasting fads, not breakfast.
- Takako T et al. Breakfast consumption and the risk of depressive symptoms: The Furukawa Nutrition and Health Study. Psychiatry Res. 2019 Mar;273:551-558. PubMed.