Victims of depression might want to lay off the sweets this holiday season, according to new research from the University of Kansas.

“Depression, in part, is an inflammatory illness,” said Stephen Ilardi, KU associate professor of clinical psychology. “What are the drivers of systemic inflammation and then brain inflammation? It turns out that what we eat plays an enormously important role.”

The investigators reached their conclusions by analyzing a wide range of research on the physiological and psychological effects of consuming added sugar.

“What does matter a bit is whether or not we get it naturally or in some sort of heavily processed form,” said Ilardi. “The reason for that is, when we get fructose, let’s say, by eating an apple, that fructose is bound to a whole bunch of natural dietary fiber. That fiber acts as a kind of buffer, and a sort of natural time release, so that our system really never gets hit with this huge dose of sugar all at once.”

Depression, even if it isn’t bad enough to need medication, is pretty widespread in the winter.

“During the wintertime, it’s probably about one out of every three Americans that are dealing with some sort of seasonally based dysphoria, sub-clinical depression,” said Ilardi. “We sometimes talk about it as the winter blues. It’s a big swath of the population. If somebody is currently battling depression, either fully syndromal or sub-syndromal, then they probably really do want to think about limiting how much added sugar they are ingesting. That’s easier said than done.”

Ilardi and his collaborators also identify sugar’s impact on the microbiome as a potential contributor to depression. The bottom line is don’t feed the bad bugs, especially if you are depressed.