Is sugar really that bad for us? Well, research is finding that the impact sugar has on your mental health is worse than you’d like to know. It is now considered one of the leading toxins attacking your mental health, not just your waist line. Its a serious drug to your brain that affects the chemical and hormone production in adults and children.
Sugar has negative impacts on growth hormones, reproductive hormones, increases symptoms of schizophrenia, and has been linked to cause or worsen depression and anxiety. In children, it can worsen symptoms of ADHD and behavior. The idea of sugar intoxicating and changing our mental health for the worse leads into issues of diet and psychology. First, I will go over sugar specifically, and some of the negative impacts it has on our mental health. Then, I briefly go over the importance of nutrition and psychotherapy, which seems to be a natural piece to this puzzle, and I will also touch on Chromium, a mineral that can really help with sugar cravings and stabilizing blood sugar when attempting to reduce sugar intake in your diet. There’s a lot here in this article, so get ready!
One of the first negative impacts sugar has on our mental health is its suppression of the growth hormone in the brain called, BDNF. Sugar actually suppresses its activity. Low BDNF levels are found in depression and schizophrenia. Chronically high blood sugar levels cause inflammation in the brain, which is linked to depression as well. The Huffington Post published an article discussing this information, The article states that, “Depression patients display a 30 percent increase in certain markers of brain inflammation when compared with a control group without depression, according to a study from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) at the University of Toronto.” Consuming sugar stimulates the mood-boosting serotonin, which when continuously overacted depletes the reserves and the brain becomes inflamed.
Psychology Today even reports on how sugar can affect your mental health, meaning the impacts of sugar are trickling into the mental health world. Depression, as mentioned, is the number one listed affect sugar may be having on your mind.
Moving into more of the effects of sugar on the brain, I read an article by Dr. Kelly Brogran, author of A Mind of Your Own. Of course, Dr. Brogran starts off by explaining the inflammatory effects of sugar on your body and brain, which we went over. Then discussed is the effects on hormones, which has a direct impact on mental health. Sugar consumption in higher amounts or in refined forms (like cake, cookies, processed foods etc.) results in an increased production of Cortisol. Your body then has to shut down the production of progesterone in order to allow the increased Cortisol. This is an evolutionary cause and effect process, because progesterone is responsible for reproduction or “pro-gestational.” Your body is not okay with reproducing in a stressful environment, so it naturally slows or reduces the production of this hormone. THEN, there are higher levels of testosterone or estrogen, leading to irritability, moodiness and anxiety. Your hormones are out of balance and so is your mind and emotions.
Convinced yet? Well, psychologists are now addressing diet in therapy with clients. In another article, Sugar; Junk Food and Mental Illness, shows how sugar has completely changed who we are as people, the article discusses how without a healthy diet, psychotherapy can only go so far. If someone is in treatment for depression, yet their diet isn’t addressed, the treatment may be fairly useless. This statement really got me,
“In fact, eating an unhealthy diet probably initiates biochemical changes that activate the “Freudian” unconscious, so we end up reenacting the real and imagined problems of childhood in our adult lives. That means Freud was half right after all — the unconscious is real and it is a source of all kinds of problems, but only if we make ourselves vulnerable by having an apple pie dessert after a fast food lunch.”
Your diet could actually trigger psychological issues, anxiety and/or traumatic experiences in your mind.
Whoa. This statement lead me to further research because the article above isn’t published by a medical professional. But, WebMD backs it up in their article, “Can What you Eat AFfect Your Mental Health?” Here’s the ticker, “Traditionally, we haven’t been trained to ask about food and nutrition,” says psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD, an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University. “But diet is potentially the most powerful intervention we have. By helping people shape their diets, we can improve their mental health and decrease their risk of psychiatric disorders.” There you have the impact of diet on your mental health. It’s very serious, and sugar is one of the most threatening toxins affecting the brain.
Getting back to sugar as a large culprit to negatively affecting brain function, we can focus on children with ADHD. Sugar is proven to increase and worsen symptoms for these issues. It’s not proven that high amounts of sugar in a diet can cause ADHD, but it can definitely make the symptoms worse. “A study conducted by the University of South Carolina concluded that the more sugar hyperactive children consumed, the more destructive and restless they became. A study conducted at Yale University indicates that high-sugar diets may increase inattention in some ADHD kids.”
So, what if you reduce or eliminate sugar in your diet and you are left angry and craving sugar? That position doesn’t seem like much of a mentally sound place to be. Your sugar cravings and sugar consumption may be a result of a vitamin deficiency, specifically chromium.
Chromium has been found to help reduce sugar cravings and control blood sugar. Nutrition express states in an article by Jeff S. Volek, Ph.D., R.D, “In recent years, some very elegant work has revealed that chromium augments the actions of insulin, which is consistent with studies showing that long-term use effectively controls blood sugar (glucose) levels in people with intolerance to carbohydrates. Better control of blood sugar levels has several favorable effects.”
Where can you get Chromium? The first place to start is naturally adding it into your diet. Broccoli has one of the highest amounts of chromium followed by Barley, Oats, Green Beans and Tomatoes. Even coffee has a bit of chromium in it! Then, you can look for the right supplement by asking your doctor what they would recommend. Next time you are feeling blue, frustrated or depressed, consider the effects your diet may be having on your mental health. Or, when your child is acting out, having trouble concentrating, or difficulties learning, take a close look at any hidden sugars that might be in their meals. It could be a simple solution to set them up for success.