The key reasons behind depression affecting the current generation of youth might remain a mystery, but recent studies have proven some of our favourite binge foods could be the culprits.
According to researchers at the RMIT University in Melbourne, energy drinks and junk food are responsible for damaging the mental health of young people – especially teens.
The number of people diagnosed with depression has skyrocketed in the last few years and as much as cyber-bullying and the media are usually held responsible for it, turns out that energy drinks and junk food cripple developing brains also at an alarming rate.
This damage is caused majorly due to intense rushes of dopamine hormones from eating those items frequently, which pose a 'unique' mental health risk to youngsters.
According to the researchers, these products cripple developing brains and some affects are also linked with taurine - an additive used in energy drinks.
Lead author of the study, Dr Christine Curran said, "Our review indicates we don't know enough about the effects of high consumption of energy drinks and the ingredients found in them at this critical time in mammalian brain development.
"Our recent findings in adolescent and young adult mice exposed to high taurine levels indicate there can be adverse effects on learning and memory and in increased alcohol consumption in females."
Another study also published in Birth Defects Research: The Teenage Brain said takeaway meals can also lead to youngsters developing serious drinking habits as they grow older, and also directly contribute to adding more than just a few pounds in weight.
Lead author Dr Amy Reichelt, of RMIT University in Melbourne, said junk food not only adds a few inches to the waistline, but also affects a developing brain. "Because key neurotransmitter systems in the brain responsible for inhibition and reward signalling are still developing during the teen years. Existing primarily on junk food could negatively affect decision making, increase reward-seeking behaviour and influence poor eating habits throughout adulthood."
Dr Curran said taurine's levels are high in a developing brain because it boosts synapses – that is, signals and connections between brain cells. Disruptions in the levels of taurine reportedly also lead to neurological disorders like epilepsy and autism.
Dr Reichelt believes adolescence is a critical period where exposure to alcohol, drugs and a high fat or sugar diet has 'pronounced and enduring detrimental effects on cognition, behaviour and learning.'
She also mentioned that studies in humans have shown that consumption of unhealthy food is associated with poor cognitive functions and reduced executive performance in adolescents. Also, obese teens have shown reduced executive functioning.
Co-editor Dr Michiko Watanabe said: "One piece of good news is exercise might be the answer to steer teens away from certain exposures. The long list of exercise benefits could motivate teens to get off the sofa."