For years, depression has been swept under the carpet of complex terms like cognitive behavioural psychology and brain biochemistry. Sadly, it was never linked to something more fundamental to our everyday existence—our dependence on sugar. There is growing consensus in the world of medicine that sugar is one of the biggest contributors to changes that affect our state of mind.
Carbs are needed to give energy to the cells in our body so they can perform their functions. This is why our brain is wired to love carbohydrates. It’s the body’s way of rewarding behaviour that ensures its survival. However, over time, sugar hijacks your reward pathway, making you dependent on it. A 2008 study on rats supported the hypothesis that sugar can lead to a natural form of addiction.
Refined sugar has an instant reaction on the brain. It stimulates the production of feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Over time, a perpetual sugar high depletes your levels of serotonin and reduces the number of dopamine receptors in your brain, adversely impacting how happy or motivated you feel.
Higher levels of blood sugar also give rise to inflammations in different parts of your body, including your brain. Consumption of white sugar not only increases brain inflammation, but also interferes with the communication of brain cells and slows down thinking. In fact, there’s a strong link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s with high blood glucose levels being a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men of sugar every day. However, sugar does not mean only refined or white sugar, but extends to other foods such as grains, potatoes, etc. Whole foods such as fruits and cereals are better than processed foods such as fruit juices and refined grains. Whole foods give you a moderate high unlike pastries and doughnuts but it’s a high that isn’t too expensive for your brain bank. So cutting down on sugar involves reducing the intake of refined sugar as well as other sugar-rich foods, such as packaged fruit juices, carbonated beverages, ketchups, sports drinks, etc.
To conclude, how you eat affects the way you feel. Cutting down sugar is a step in the right direction in your fight against depression. Additionally, supplements like Vitamin B 12, Folic Acid, Omega 3 Fatty acids are a natural and healthy source of nutrition to combat depression.
Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake.
Stress, food, and inflammation: psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition at the cutting edge.
Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age.