We have come to realize that sugar consumption negatively impacts health, and is a leading cause of obesity, type II diabetes, and heart disease, but new research is emerging that shows how too much sugar can also be directly related to depression, playing a major role in our psychological health as well.
For most of us, sugar is an essential part of our days. Think about how often you start craving ice cream, chocolate, or candy whenever you find yourself down or stressed. For myself, despite my understanding that sugar is toxic and therefore doing my best to avoid it, I still crave a sugary treat when I am in these lowered states. We use sugar to soothe, to energize, and to reward ourselves for a job well done, often without even realizing it.
Can you relate?
Disclaimer: The reference to sugar in this article is about added sugars, not sugars that are naturally found in fruits and vegetables.
So, Why Is This?
A study recently published in Scientific Reports found that there was a greater risk of depression among men whose diets were high in sugar.
You may be thinking that this makes sense because feeling depressed may lead to more sugar consumption rather than the other way around, but it seems as though, like many other drug addictions, this is a vicious cycle that we can easily fall into if we are not careful.
Researchers determined that, in many cases, sugar consumption actually occurred before depression, rather than being a consequence of it. An increasing number of studies have been emerging which explore the implications of diet on mental health, especially with the knowledge that up to 90% of our serotonin is produced in our gut — aptly giving the gut the name of our second brain. It has been difficult, however, to determine exactly how they are linked.
How Are Diet and Mental Health Linked?
A study conducted in 2002 monitoring the overall sugar consumption per person in six different countries — including Canada, France, Germany, Korea, New Zealand, and the United States — was able to connect the instance of sugar consumption to higher rates of major depression.
Since then, other research teams have also investigated the effect of diet on mental health. Two studies determined that eating fast foods like hamburgers, pizza, french fries, and other fried foods correlated with higher rates of depression in both children and adults.
Another study showed that female seniors from the United States with high levels of sugar in their diet also had greater rates of depression than those who consumed less sugar.
Another study determined that adults who drank unsweetened tea, compared to those who drank soft drinks, had lower rates of depression.
Does Sugar Affect Our Neurons?
Neurons are highly sensitive cells, and aren’t really designed to handle blood sugar spikes. Because of this, those suffering from diabetes are at a greater risk for neuronal damage, and scientists are now starting to understand how this can be linked directly to high blood sugar.
Researchers from the Department of Neurobiology at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, performed a study on diabetic rats and discovered that high blood glucose led to neural inflammation and damage.
This same group also discovered that even neurons grown in the laboratory showed increased inflammation when exposed to high levels of glucose.
Does Sugar Affect Our Cognitive Ability?
A review of several studies written by Margaret Morris, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacology in the School of Medical Sciences of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and her team of researchers, determined that high rates of sugar consumption directly correlated with mild cognitive impairment in both seniors and children.
This group was also able to show that, after being put on a high sugar diet for just five days, laboratory rats had difficulty recognizing familiar places, a problem that went hand in hand with the inflammation and oxidative stress their brains had suffered.