Sugar and Depression. Finding your Balance!
You may not be aware but sugar and depression can go hand in hand. All animal species need sugar in terms of glucose in order to survive. Indeed, every cell of our bodies uses glucose in order to synthesise ATP (adenosine triphosphate) – that is the energy-carrying molecule used in cells for everyday functionality.
That’s why every single day we need to eat in order to maintain a constant supply of glucose to our cells. But if glucose is so essential how come that sugar and depression have been linked together in several populations’ studies? Well, it’s all about keeping the right balance.
There are plausible biological explanations for an association of habitual sugar intake and subsequent risk of depression, in the long-term. Multiple studies confirm that a high intake of sugar lowers the levels of the growth factor brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) synthesised in the brain, therefore reducing neurogenesis and facilitating hippocampal atrophy in depression (Reference 1). A diet rich in carbohydrates has been associated with increased circulating inflammatory markers, which may depress mood (Reference 2).
Having an Italian sized plate of pasta with tomato sauce, followed by a large slice of tiramisu and a glass of wine might sound delicious, but it could induce hypoglycaemia through an exaggerated insulin response and thereby influence hormone levels and potentially mood states (Reference 3).
Moderate sugar for good mental health.
From the Whitehall II study, researchers undertook a systematic cross-sectional and prospective analysis of 23,245 individuals, aiming to assess associations between sweet food and beverage intake with common mental health disorders and depression. The investigators were also trying to examine the role of reverse causation influence of mood on intake of sugar as potential explanation for the observed linkage.
Men with the highest sugar intake had 23% increased odds of incidents of common mental health disorders after 5 years (Reference 3). Those prospective findings suggest that for good psychological health it is necessary to moderate the intake of sugar.
If you are interested in reading more about your brain then see our blog Best Foods for Your Brain! and Brainpower and Memory loss.