Sugar and Mental Health
Although 75% of us have too much of it, the majority of us are pretty clear that refined sugar isn’t the best thing we can be eating, especially when trying to maintain a healthy weight. However, that isn’t the end of it. More and more studies are emerging showing that sugar may also be having a negative impact on our mental health. It turns out that turning to the ice cream after a break-up or the donuts at the start of a tough day may actually be making things worse, not better.
Countries with a higher sugar-intake also have a higher rate of depression, and while at first this may seem like a coincidence, the science is starting to back it up. In 2017, a study out of UCL in London, identified a great risk of depression in men who consumed a significant amount of sugar in their diet, and similar results have been found in women as well.
Sugar Highs… and Lows…
We have all experienced a sugar high: that little rush you get when sugar gets into your bloodstream from a sweet treat. However, when we eat a lot of sugar, our bodies have to work hard to get everything back to normal. This impairs the body’s ability to cope with stress, and for some this can trigger worry, nervousness, irritability, and sadness. These things are already symptoms of depression and anxiety, and eating sugar exacerbates them and makes things worse for those already struggling.
Sugar is thought to increase inflammation in the body, which can have a negative impact on many of our organs, including the brain. Diets high in sugar, especially from sugary drinks, can slow the brain, even causing neuronal damage and speeding up the aging of the brain. It is thought this may be linked to the onset of mental illness, Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as reduced cognitive function, especially in children.
This was certainly the case for some rats in a 2015 study. Those that were fed a sugary solution, within 6 weeks, could no longer find their way out of a maze they had previously mastered, while those on a nutritious diet were finding their way out quicker in the same period of time.
Many people with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses have seen a reduction in their symptoms when they have changed their diet to reduce their sugar intake. It takes time for nutritional changes to have an impact, but it’s looking like it could be well worth the effort. Imagine the impact on our schools and our society if such a simple thing as lowering the amount of sugar we consume could change the way we are able to process and how longs our minds are healthy for!
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