Consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with depression, mesocorticolimbic volume, and inflammation

Oren Contreras-Rodriguez*, Marta Reales-Moreno, Sílvia Fernández-Barrès, Anna Cimpean, María Arnoriaga-Rodríguez, Josep Puig, Carles Biarnés, Anna Motger-Albertí, Marta Cano, José Manuel Fernández-Real*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The consumption of ultra-processed foods and drinks (UPF) has been associated with depression and inflammation and preclinical studies showed that some UPF components disrupt the amygdala-hippocampal complex. We combine diet, clinical and brain imaging data to investigate the relationship between the UPF consumption, depressive symptoms, and brain volumes in humans, considering interactions with obesity, and the mediation effect of inflammation biomarkers. Methods: One-hundred fifty-two adults underwent diet, depressive symptoms, anatomic magnetic resonance imaging assessments and laboratory tests. Relationships between the % of UPF consumption (in grams) of the total diet, depressive symptoms, and gray matter brain volumes were explored using several adjusted regression models, and in interaction with the presence of obesity. Whether inflammatory biomarkers (i.e., white blood cell count, lipopolysaccharide-binding protein, c-reactive protein) mediate the previous associations was investigated using R mediation package. Results: High UPF consumption was associated with higher depressive symptoms in all participants (β = 0.178, CI = 0.008–0.261) and in those with obesity (β = 0.214, CI = −0.004–0.333). Higher consumption was also associated with lower volumes in the posterior cingulate cortex and the left amygdala, which in the participants with obesity also encompassed the left ventral putamen and the dorsal frontal cortex. White blood count levels mediated the association between UPF consumption and depressive symptoms (p = 0.022). Limitations: The present study precludes any causal conclusions. Conclusions: UPF consumption is associated with depressive symptoms and lower volumes within the mesocorticolimbic brain network implicated in reward processes and conflict monitoring. Associations were partially dependent on obesity and white blood cell count.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)340-348
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2023


  • Amygdala
  • Cingulate cortex
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Inflammation
  • Obesity
  • Ultra-processed foods and drinks


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