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8 Facts About Sugar and Depression

Published May 05, 2019 Read Time: 8 minutes
Kate Sullivan

Written By: Kate Sullivan, MS

Kate holds a MS in Business Psychology and is currently a PHD researcher in Well-Being and Performance Psychology.

8-facts-about-sugar-and-depression
<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@type":"BlogPosting", "headline":"Keto 101: Everything Beginners Need To Know", "datePublished":"January 08, 2019", "description":"The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that shifts your metabolism into fat burning mode. Check out our keto 101 guide for beginners to get started.", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/08/keto-diet-food-ingredients-thumbnail-0053.jpg" }, } ] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">What Is Depression?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">Sugar Is More Addictive Than Cocaine</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">Can Sugar Worsen Depression?</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">What Foods Can Help Fight Depression?</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">Can Exercise Help with Depression?</a></li> <li><a href="#section6">Wrapping It Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p align="justify">Food can have many effects on your mood and emotions. When you’re hungry and want food, you can become upset, grumpy, or even angry. You may have also noticed that when you've had a yummy meal, you feel happy, excited, or even euphoric. The food that you can eat can also have long-term effects on your health. Specifically, eating too much sugar can increase your risk for developing mood disorders, including depression. </p> <p align="justify">Sugars occur naturally in complex carbohydrates like grains, vegetables, and fruits. You can also find sugar in refined foods such as baked goods, candy, cakes, pasta, soda, and bread. The <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/the-ugly-truth-behind-the-standard-american-diet/">standard American diet</a> relies heavily on these easily digestible carbs and doesn’t include enough complex carbs from healthier foods. </p> <p align="justify">Eating too many simple sugars may increase your risk for mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, as well as several other chronic health issues. Read on to learn about the link between sugar and depression. </p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/sad-boy-in-corner-of-room-0156.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/sad-boy-in-corner-of-room-0156.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/sad-boy-in-corner-of-room-0156.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/sad-boy-in-corner-of-room-LR-0156.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="sad-boy-in-corner-of-room"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section1"> <script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"What Is Depression?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":"It’s normal to feel sad sometimes, especially when you’re struggling with a loss or a stressful life event. But, it starts to become a cause of concern when you’re feeling intense feelings of sadness more often than not. In addition to your feelings of intense sadness, you may also be feeling a sense of hopelessness or worthlessness."}}]}</script> <h2>What Is Depression?</h2> <p align="justify">It’s normal to feel sad sometimes, especially when you’re struggling with a loss or a stressful life event. But, it starts to become a cause of concern when you’re feeling intense feelings of sadness more often than not. In addition to your feelings of intense sadness, you may also be feeling a sense of hopelessness or worthlessness.</p> <p align="justify">The exact causes aren’t completely understood, but some of the contributing factors are believed to be<sup>2</sup>:</p> <ul> <li> A chemical imbalance</li> <li> Inflammation in the brain</li> <li> Inheriting the mental illness from a family member</li> <li> Trauma or death of a loved one</li> <li> Medical conditions or hormone imbalance</li> </ul> <p align="justify">Not everyone experiences depression in the same way. It’s common for different people to experience different severities, symptoms, and length of depressive episodes. </p> <h3>Common Symptoms of Depression</h3> <p align="justify">While you should seek a medical professional to receive a diagnosis, come of the most common symptoms of depression can include<sup>3</sup>:</p> <ul> <li> Feeling irritable</li> <li> Lost pleasure in your favorite activities or things you once enjoyed</li> <li> Feeling empty or anxious</li> <li> You’re sleeping too much or having problems sleeping at all</li> <li> You have difficulty focusing</li> <li> Lowered sex drive</li> <li> You struggle to remember things or focus</li> <li> You’ve lost or gained weight</li> </ul> <p align="justify">According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that is used by the American Psychiatric Association, a person must show five or more of the above listed symptoms for a minimum of two weeks to be diagnosed with depression<sup>4</sup>.</p> <p align="justify">Okay, so you should just quit eating sugar- right?</p> <p align="justify">The problem is that saying you should quit eating sugar is a lot easier said than done. Why?</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section2"> <h2>Sugar Is More Addictive Than Cocaine</h2> <p align="justify">Studies have shown that when the brain is exposed to high levels of sugar, the reward centers in the brain are being constantly being stimulated. Thus, the sugar rush high a brain gets results in a more intense ‘high’ than when a brain is exposed to cocaine<sup>1</sup>. So when your brain is constantly activated, it’s going to be difficult to fight for self-control.</p> <p align="justify">When purposefully looking to avoiding foods that have a higher sugar content, you should be aware that foods such as <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/easy-keto-friendly-salad-dressings/" rel="noreferrer">salad dressing</a>, sauces, and even <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/the-best-low-carb-vegetables-to-eat-on-keto/" rel="noreferrer">vegetables</a> can have sugar in them. To make sure that you’re really eliminating as much sugar from your diet as you can, read the back of every nutrition label for the sugar content. As you slowly start to eliminate sugar from your diet, you’ll start craving it less!</p> <p align="justify">Even if you haven’t been clinically diagnosed with depression, finding ways to naturally improve your mental health should start with your diet. Let’s take a quick look to see if the high-carb, high-sugar diet you’re consuming could be playing a part in your depression or anxiety.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/donuts-on-table-0156.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/donuts-on-table-0156.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/donuts-on-table-0156.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/donuts-on-table-LR-0156.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="donuts-on-table"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section3"> <script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"Can Sugar Worsen Depression?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":"Candy bars, cookies, bread, pasta and ice cream aren’t the only foods that you can find sugar in. Fruits and even vegetables contain naturally occurring sugars. But, if mother nature naturally makes sugars, can eating natural sugars worsen your mental health?\n\nYes, absolutely!"}}]}</script> <h2>Can Sugar Worsen Depression?</h2> <p align="justify">Candy bars, cookies, bread, pasta and ice cream aren’t the only foods that you can find sugar in. Fruits and even vegetables contain naturally occurring sugars. But, if mother nature naturally makes sugars, can eating natural sugars worsen your mental health?</p> <p align="justify">Yes, absolutely!</p> <h3>Fact #1: Sugar Causes Inflammation</h3> <p align="justify">Eating too much sugar has been linked to increased inflammation found in the body<sup>5</sup>. When you’re constantly eating sugar, your body’s blood sugar levels spikes. As your blood sugar levels rise, your body produces molecules that <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/can-ketosis-reduce-inflammation/" rel="noreferrer">cause inflammation</a>, referred to as cytokines<sup>6</sup>.</p> <p align="justify">These studies have shown that when inflammatory markers are present, the chances of experiencing a depressive episode increases. This is because cytokines make it difficult for the chemical hormones in your brain to communicate with each other, leading to biochemical imbalances.</p> <h3>Fact #2: Sugar Promotes Oxidative Stress</h3> <p align="justify">In addition, when your <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-sweeteners-which-ones-to-use-which-to-avoid/" rel="noreferrer">blood sugar levels start to spike</a>, your body also starts to produce molecules that are referred to as Advanced Glycation End products (AKA AGEs). AGEs are harmful molecules that can cause inflammation and oxidative stress in your body<sup>7</sup>.</p> <p align="justify">Having too many AGEs in your body leads to oxidative stress, which is an imbalance in your body between antioxidants and free radicals. Prolonged exposure to oxidative stress can lead to both cell and tissue damage<sup>8</sup>.</p> <p align="justify">Research has shown that people who are suffering from depression have increased oxidative stress and don’t have enough antioxidants in their bodies to fight against this form of stress<sup>9</sup>. All of this unmanaged oxidative stress in the body increases the likelihood of developing depression!</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/ice-cream-cone-in-hand-0156.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/ice-cream-cone-in-hand-0156.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/ice-cream-cone-in-hand-0156.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/ice-cream-cone-in-hand-LR-0156.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="ice-cream-cone-in-hand"> </picture> <h3>Fact #3: Sugar Leads To Gut Inflammation</h3> <p align="justify">The connection between <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/keto-support/shop/" rel="noreferrer">your brain and your gut</a> is shocking. Instead of thinking of chronic inflammation being a symptom of depression, depression is actually a common symptom of chronic inflammation. If left untreated, chronic inflammation can only lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. </p> <p align="justify">But, how exactly does your gut affect your brain? </p> <p align="justify">Right now, billions of little <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/the-411-on-probiotics-and-the-microbiome/" rel="noreferrer">microbiotas are living in your gut</a>. This friendly type of bacteria is responsible for hormonal balance. Plus, they also help to regulate your body’s response to stress and the release of cortisol. You can thank your microbiotas for regulating the development of cytokines.</p> <p align="justify">When an excessive intake of sugar is present in a diet, the barrier function of your intestinal wall is damaged, which encourages the growth of unhealthy bacteria to run rampant through your body<sup>11</sup>. This means that all of the extra sugar that you’re eating is actually hurting the good bacteria in your gut.</p> <p align="justify">If there aren’t enough good bacteria to regulate the creation of cytokines in your body, inflammation can occur<sup>11,12</sup>. When there’s too much bad bacteria in your gut, your body has a difficult time producing serotonin and GABA, both of which are responsible for calming anxiety and fighting against depression.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/insulin-monitor-on-red-0156.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/insulin-monitor-on-red-0156.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/insulin-monitor-on-red-0156.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/insulin-monitor-on-red-LR-0156.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="insulin-monitor"> </picture> <h3>Fact #4: Too Much Sugar Leads To Insulin Resistance</h3> <p align="justify">Over a period of time, if you expose your body to high blood sugar levels constantly, your cells develop insulin resistance. In simpler terms, it means that your cells won’t use insulin. When your cells aren’t using insulin, your brain doesn’t produce enough dopamine or serotonin<sup>13</sup>.</p> <p align="justify">Serotonin, also known as the happiness molecule, is the neurotransmitter that’s responsible for boosting your mood. Dopamine is the molecular that’s responsible for your pleasure-reward system. When isn’t producing enough of either of these molecules, a person is more likely to experience anxiety and depressive symptoms.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section4"> <script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"What Foods Can Help Fight Depression?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":"Filling your diet with healthy, nutrient dense foods that are low carb (carbs = sugar) is a great tool to have in your back pocket to boost your overall mental health."}}]}</script> <h2>What Foods Can Help Fight Depression?</h2> <p align="justify">Filling your diet with healthy, nutrient dense foods that are low carb (carbs = sugar) is a great tool to have in your back pocket to boost your overall mental health.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/turmeric-ginger-in-spoons-0156.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/turmeric-ginger-in-spoons-0156.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/turmeric-ginger-in-spoons-0156.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/turmeric-ginger-in-spoons-LR-0156.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="turmeric-ginger-in-spoons"> </picture> <h3>Fact #5: Turmeric Fights Depression</h3> <p align="justify">Turmeric is commonly used as a <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/turmeric-10-benefits-you-wont-want-to-miss-out-on/" rel="noreferrer">natural anti-inflammatory</a>, but it also can help to improve your mental health. Due to the inflammation fighting properties in turmeric, your brain will have an easier time regulating its hormone production, resulting in stabilized mental health over a period of time.</p> <h3>Fact #6: Green Tea Is a Brain Boosting Drink</h3> <p align="justify">Rich in the amino acid L-theanine, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/top-10-foods-for-fighting-depression/" rel="noreferrer">green tea contains tons of antioxidants</a> that help to fight against oxidative stress. Plus, L-theanine provides drinkers with a soothing effect due to boosted production of neurotransmitters in your brain!</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/cashews-in-bowl-0156.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/cashews-in-bowl-0156.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/cashews-in-bowl-0156.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/cashews-in-bowl-LR-0156.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="cashews-in-bowl"> </picture> <h3>Fact #7: Cashews Will Fight Your Depression</h3> <p align="justify">Cashews are a great snack to grab if you’re looking for something to munch on while looking to reduce your sugar intake. However, adding cashews into your diet helps to lower cortisol levels, which can result in reduced anxiety levels. Plus, the magnesium and tryptophan found in <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/are-cashews-good-for-depression-and-anxiety/" rel="noreferrer">cashews help your brain to release serotonin</a>, resulting in a happier brain! </p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/girl-outside-stretching-fall-colors-0156.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/girl-outside-stretching-fall-colors-0156.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/girl-outside-stretching-fall-colors-0156.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/girl-outside-stretching-fall-colors-LR-0156.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="girl-outside-stretching-fall-colors"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section5"> <script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"Can Exercise Help with Depression?","acceptedAnswer":{"@type":"Answer","text":"Using exercise is a wonderful all-natural tool to fight against your depression. According to the experts at Harvard Health, exercise helps support the cell growth in nerves in the hippocampus section of your brain. Scientists have noted that in people who are experiencing depression, the hippocampus is actually smaller than people who aren’t suffering from depression."}}]}</script> <h2>Can Exercise Help with Depression?</h2> <h3>Fact #8: Exercise Helps Fight Depression</h3> <p align="justify">Using exercise is a wonderful all-natural tool to fight against your depression. According to the experts at Harvard Health, exercise helps support the cell growth in nerves in the hippocampus section of your brain. Scientists have noted that in people who are experiencing depression, the hippocampus is actually smaller than people who aren’t suffering from depression<sup>14</sup>.</p> <p align="justify">By <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/exercise-for-mental-health/" rel="noreferrer">using exercise</a> to stimulate nerve cell growth in the hippocampus section of the brain, you can help to relieve your depression-related symptoms! </p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section6"> <h2>Wrapping It Up</h2> <p align="justify">Filling your diet with organic, nutrient-dense foods can help you fight against your depression and improve your overall mental health. But, before you make any significant changes in your diet, make sure to consult with a medical professional. Limiting your sugar intake or even completely eliminating it and starting to exercise is a great way to take back your mental health.</p> <p align="justify">We get it- starting to exercise can be challenging if you’re not exactly sure where to start. Not only does going to the gym sound overwhelming, you just don’t have time to make a trip to the gym every week. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/products/warrior-made/" rel="noreferrer">Our Warrior Made membership</a> offers you premium workouts, you can do it from the comfort of your own home! Plus, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/products/warrior-made/" rel="noreferrer">our workouts</a> only take 20 minutes, don’t require any equipment and can be done in the comfort of your own home!</p> <h3>Resources</h3> <ol> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23719144" rel="noreferrer">Sugar Addiction</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.livescience.com/34718-depression-treatment-psychotherapy-anti-depressants.html" rel="noreferrer">Depressions: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/detecting-depression" rel="noreferrer">Signs of Clinical Depression</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm">Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21807932" rel="noreferrer">Gut Microbiota, Intestinal Permeability, Obesity-Induced Inflammation</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-24763/the-real-reason-you-should-quit-sugar-how-to-cut-it-out-of-your-life-for-good.html" rel="noreferrer">The Real Reason You Should Quit Sugar</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/advanced-glycation-end-products" rel="noreferrer">What Are Advanced Glycation End Products?</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10693912" rel="noreferrer">What Is Oxidative Stress?</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453014003655" rel="noreferrer">Is Depression Associated With Increased Oxidative Stress?</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/" rel="noreferrer">Chronic Inflammation</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-leaky-gut-real" rel="noreferrer"> Is Leaky Gut Syndrome Real Condition?</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201812/feeling-depressed-gut-brain-dysfunction-may-be-blame" rel="noreferrer">Feeling Depressed? Gut-Brain Dysfunction May Be To Blame</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4371978/" rel="noreferrer">Insulin Resistance Inn Brain Alters Dopamine Turnover</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression" rel="noreferrer">Exercise Is An All Natural Treatment To Fight Depression</a></li> </ol>

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