Depression and Frailty Linked to Ultra-Processed Food

Over the past several years we have published studies linking diets of ultra-processed foods with depression and other serious health consequences.  Now a new study has found a connection between a diet of highly-processed food (known to be pro-inflammatory) and (1) depression, and (2) the development of frailty*–both things we all want to avoid.

Study overview

Scientists set out to determine if individuals with depressive symptoms are more vulnerable to frailty development in response to dietary inflammation. The study utilized data from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring cohort. They tested 1,701 non-frail participants who reported their diet and depressive symptoms at baseline and were followed for 11 years when frailty status was reassessed. The study found an association between inflammatory diet and increased odds of frailty appeared somewhat stronger among those with depressive symptoms.


“This study found that depressive symptoms may exacerbate the development of frailty in response to consuming an inflammatory diet. This suggests that consuming a diet rich in anti-inflammatory compounds (e.g., fiber and plant-based compounds called flavonoids) may help prevent the development of frailty…

“Our exploratory data also suggests that when middle-aged and older adults consume a pro-inflammatory diet, they are more likely to newly develop depressive symptoms and frailty at the same time rather than develop either condition alone.” (source)

-Courtney L Millar, Ph.D., Lead study author and Post-Doctoral Fellow, Marcus Institute of Aging Research, Hebrew Senior Life, and Harvard Medical School

The Takeaway

Dietary inflammation is associated with increased risk of frailty. Those with depressive symptoms may be at higher risk of frailty onset since they typically have higher levels of inflammation. In short, middle-aged and older adults with depression may be more vulnerable to the effects of dietary inflammation on the development of frailty and other health issues.

*Frailty, defined as a recognizable state of increased vulnerability resulting from a decline in function across multiple physiological systems, affects 10-15% older adults and often co-occurs with other health conditions, like depression.

Journal reference: Millar, C., et al. Association of pro-inflammatory diet with frailty onset among adults with and without depressive symptoms: results from the Framingham Offspring Study, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, glac140, Published: July, 2022.

DOI:   Abstract of study   Summary|Summary