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Breast cancer patients are more likely to experience depression. In a sample of breast cancer patients, nutrient-sparse diets increased inflammatory markers and depression severity.

Breast cancer, one of the leading causes of death among women worldwide, causes immense emotional distress in patients. The emotional turmoil leads to high rates of depression, which often goes untreated. Depression in breast cancer can worsen physical pain and lead to poorer survival rates. Previous studies report higher depression rates in people with pro-inflammatory diets, especially those high in red meat and refined foods. Given that diet and inflammation are tightly linked and determine disease outcomes, scientists are exploring how they interact in vulnerable breast cancer patients.

Researchers measured depression and anxiety symptoms in a group of breast cancer patients to find relationships between their depression status and dietary habits, physical activity, and inflammatory markers. In agreement with previous research finding high depression rates among breast cancer patients, more than 25% of the participants scored high on the depressive symptoms questionnaire.

Changes in lifestyle factors because of the physical symptoms of cancer, such as pain, can lead to depression. Patients showing signs of depression in this study engaged in less physical activity and had a higher dietary inflammation index than non-depressed patients. Higher inflammation in depressed patients was related to their high carbohydrate and low vitamin/mineral nutritional profile, meaning their diets were likely lower in whole grains and nutrient-rich foods.

The inflammatory markers CRP, TNF-a, IL-6, and IL-1b are known to be involved in depression. All four markers were elevated in depressed patients, and TNF-α mediated the relationship between dietary inflammation and depressive symptoms. This evidence solidifies the overall negative effects of a pro-inflammatory diet are regulated by TNF-α.

Although depression is difficult to treat, healthcare providers should emphasize the positive effects of a whole-food and nutrient-rich diet, especially in breast cancer patients who are already more vulnerable to inflammation and depression.               

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Chen, Y., Maitiniyazi, G., Li, Z., Li, T., Liu, Y., Zhang, R., Cao, X., Gu, D., & Xia, S. (2022). TNF-α Mediates the Association between Dietary Inflammatory Index and Depressive Symptoms in Breast Cancer. Nutrients, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15010084