Could Sugar Make Depression Worse?
I have a theory: Many people who suffer from chronic severe depression and anxiety are allergic to sugar and foods like white flour that the human body processes like sugar.
Like most of my theories, I have tested this one on my 13-year-old son, because his brain is most like mine in our family (poor guy). After he has consumed three pumpkin muffins, his character completely changes, like the Green Goblin (Norman Osborn) in “Spider-Man.”
Depending on the amount of fructose corn syrup in the muffins, his head sometimes spins around like Linda Blair’s in “The Exorcist,” and his pupils can do a 360 in the eye sockets. He is horribly obnoxious for about three hours — twerking at the refrigerator, riding his lacrosse stick like a horse through the living room — and then he starts sobbing: “I hate my life!! Someone please shoot me!” Often the next morning he will wake up hungover, with purple circles under his swollen eyes.
You would think that two somewhat intelligent parents would have picked up on this connection between his behavior and his diet in the first decade of his life, but it has only been in the last year we’ve been documenting the experiment. It’s harder than you think to get your kid excited about vegetables and steer him away from any kind of food offered in a vending machine. Whenever we try to encourage positive eating habits, something seems to go terribly wrong. Like the time we thought we’d have a fun family outing at Potbelly.
Eric: “David, do you think you could get a salad?”
Katherine (11-year-old): “I’m getting a sub!”
David (crying): “It’s not fair! I hate my brain!”
Eric: “Well, Katherine didn’t get the skinny gene.”
Katherine (crying): “You think I’m fat!”
Eric: “Let’s just go home.”
I feel badly for my little guy because I know how delicate he is. Three pumpkin muffins would also have me thinking, “I hate my life; please shoot me.” I just don’t say it aloud. I blog about it.
Seeing his reactions to Oreos and frappuccinos, however, confirms my theory on sugar, that some homo sapiens can’t handle the chemical formula C12H22O11.
Sugar and the Depressed Brain
In his bestseller The Ultramind Solution, Mark Hyman, MD, writes:
“There is no scientific controversy here. The evidence is in. Sugar causes inflammation. The insulin-resistant fat cells you pack on when you eat too much sugar produces nasty inflammatory messages (cytokines) … spreading their damage to the brain. In fact, researchers have suggested calling depression “metabolic syndrome Type II” because instead of just having a fat swollen belly, you also get a fat swollen (and depressed) brain. And psychiatrists are starting to treat depression and psychiatric disorders with anti-diabetic drugs like Actos! These drugs lower blood sugar, lower insulin, and reduce inflammation.”
Besides causing insulin and blood sugar imbalances, refined carbohydrates and sugars use up the B vitamins we need to sustain good moods. In a study published in British Journal of Psychiatry, 3,500 middle-aged participants were given a diet of whole foods (plenty of vegetables, fruit, and fish) or a diet of processed foods (loaded with desserts, fried food, and refined grains). Five years later, the prcoessed-foods group had a 58 percent increased risk for depression, while the whole-foods group had a 26 percent reduced risk of depression. The right foods seem to be able to protect a person, to some extent, from developing a mood disorder.
Sugar Sins: Aggresive Behavior, Anxiety, Fatigue
At the Brain Bio Center, a nonprofit clinic run by FoodfortheBrain.org to help people use nutrition, diet, and lifestyle recommendations to assist mental health conditions, the specialists say that poor blood sugar is often the single biggest factor in mood disorders among the people who seek their advice. In their article on depression, they write:
“Eating lots of sugar is going to give you sudden peaks and troughs in the amount of glucose in your blood; symptoms that this is going on include fatigue, irritability, dizziness, insomnia, excessive sweating (especially at night), poor concentration and forgetfulness, excessive thirst, depression and crying spells, digestive disturbances and blurred vision. Since the brain depends on an even supply of glucose it is no surprise to find that sugar has been implicated in aggressive behavior, anxiety, and depression, and fatigue.”
Sugar also messes with your thyroid, the unassuming butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck that performs the responsibilities of a Grand Central Station for your body, determining how your body uses energy and makes proteins. Thyroid hormones are responsible for regulating metabolism, growth and development, and body temperature. They are also critical to mood.
Sugar and ‘Death Math’
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease affecting the thyroid gland, is what made journalist and television host Sara Wilson quit sugar three years ago. She writes, “It pretty much crippled me a few years ago, some side effects of which included: whacked-out blood sugar, screwed-up hormones, a predisposition to diabetes and high cholesterol, mood fluctuations, weakness to the point of not being able to work or walk for nine months, weight gain and much more. All of the above are now stable or overcome… I’ve wiped out my antibody markers, something my doctors find astounding. I believe quitting sugar did this.”
I read her bestselling book, I Quit Sugar, about a year ago, but it took me nine more months to commit. I had to feel miserable enough to want to eliminate the foods I adore: dark chocolate, sugar cookies, caramel apples. At Thanksgiving dinner last year, I devoured a delicious piece of pumpkin pie with a generous scoop of vanilla ice-cream and lots of whipped cream. Then, for two days, I cried nonstop and did “death math,” where you add up the ages of all your relatives and divide by how many you have to see what average age of death you get — the number of years you have to hang on to, to make it to a natural death.
That was more than three months ago. Since then my mood has been much more stable and my sessions of death math are less frequent.
There is something to my theory.
Now if I can just get my son to stay away from the pumpkin muffins.
Originally posted on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.
Sugar and the brain image available from Shutterstock
Borchard, T. (2018). Could Sugar Make Depression Worse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 28, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/why-sugar-is-poison-to-depression/