If you think there's no connection between what you eat and how you feel emotionally, think again. Especially when it comes to added sugars. We all know by now that an over-consumption of sugar and other sweeteners can have detrimental effects on our waistlines and our physical health. That sweet tooth of yours can also be negatively impacting your mood, ability to learn, and quality of life. Here are some mental health problems that have been linked to unnecessary sugar consumption.
Research has linked highly processed sugar consumption to an increased risk of depression. Sugar has been shown to suppress the activity of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein used by the brain to encourage the growth of new neurons. Lack of healthy neurons can lead to atrophy of the hippocampus, which has been tied to greater risk of depression, as well as schizophrenia and dementia. The consumption of sugar puts stress on BDNF production. Therefore, sugar is best avoided if you want to remain level-headed and in good spirits.
The standard American diet is full of processed foods, especially those that contain unnecessary sugars and sweeteners. These foods have been linked to a greater risk in anxiety and a reduced ability to handle stress. When you consume sugar, you can end up on a so-called blood sugar rollercoaster. This sugar high and crash can make anxiety worse. In a 2009 study, rats that were fed sugar were more likely to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks.
Sugar has also been linked to compromised cognitive abilities. People who have a steady intake of sugar have been shown to have impaired memory retention and recall. A high sugar diet over time can also cause insulin resistance. Insulin resistance has been shown to damage communication pathways between brain cells that fuel learning and memory formation. This also goes back to BDNF suppression and the atrophy of the hippocampus.
This is a big one because there's now no question about sugar being addictive. Some researchers even posit that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Sugar has been shown to flood the brain with the feel-good hormone dopamine. Over time this trains the brain to seek out that reward. Researchers at the University of Bordeaux in France gave some rats a choice between sugar water and cocaine. The majority of the rats chose the sugar water over cocaine. With this addiction to sugar also comes withdrawal when individuals cannot ingest sugar quickly enough to meet their needs. Withdrawal from sugar can appear as symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.