The Link Between Sugar and Depression
Men consuming more than 67 grams of sugar per day were 23 percent more likely to develop anxiety or depression over the course of five years than those whose sugar consumption was less than 40 grams per day
Other studies have also linked high-sugar diets to a higher risk of depression and anxiety, showing a low-sugar diet is an important part of the prevention and treatment of common mental health problems
Sugar increases your risk of depression by contributing to insulin and leptin resistance, suppressing BDNF, affecting dopamine, damaging your mitochondria and promoting chronic inflammation
How Sugar Raises Your Depression Risk
A number of other studies have also identified mechanisms by which excessive sugar consumption can wreak havoc with your mental health. For example, eating excessive amounts of sugar:
- Contributes to insulin and leptin resistance and impaired signaling, which play a significant role in mental health.
- Suppresses activity of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key growth hormone that promotes healthy brain neurons. BDNF levels tend to be critically low in both depression and schizophrenia, and animal models suggest this may actually be a causative factor.
- Affects dopamine, a neurotransmitter that fuels your brain’s reward system9 (hence sugar’s addictive potential10,11,12) and is known to play a role in mood disorders.13
- Damages your mitochondria, which can have body-wide effects. Your mitochondria generate the vast majority of the energy (adenosine triphosphate or ATP) in your body. When sugar is your primary fuel, excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secondary free radicals are created, which damage cellular mitochondrial membranes and DNA.
Needless to say, as your mitochondria are damaged, the energy currency in your body declines and your brain will struggle to work properly. Healthy dietary fats, on the other hand, create far fewer ROS and free radicals. Fats are also critical for the health of cellular membranes and many other biological functions, including and especially the functioning of your brain.
Among the most important fats for brain function and mental health are the long-chained animal-based omega-3 fats DHA and EPA. Not only are they anti-inflammatory, but DHA is actually a component in every cell of your body, and 90 percent of the omega-3 fat found in brain tissue is DHA.
- Promotes chronic inflammation which, in the long term, disrupts the normal functioning of your immune system, thereby raising your risk of depression. A 2004 cross-cultural analysis14 of the relationship between diet and mental illness found a strong link between high sugar consumption and the risk for depression and schizophrenia.
It also concluded that dietary predictors of depression are similar to those for diabetes and heart disease. One of the hallmarks of these diseases is chronic inflammation, which sugar is a primary driver of. So, excessive amounts of sugar can truly set off an avalanche of negative health events — both physical and mental.
Inflammation May Be the No. 1 Risk Factor for Depression
Another previous study published in the International Breastfeeding Journal15 found inflammation may be more than just another risk factor. It may actually be the primary risk factor that underlies all others. According to the researchers:
“The old paradigm described inflammation as simply one of many risk factors for depression. The new paradigm is based on more recent research that has indicated that physical and psychological stressors increase inflammation. These recent studies constitute an important shift in the depression paradigm: inflammation is not simply a risk factor; it is the risk factor that underlies all the others.
Moreover, inflammation explains why psychosocial, behavioral and physical risk factors increase the risk of depression. This is true for depression in general and for postpartum depression in particular.”
In another study,16 the researchers suggested “depression may be a neuropsychiatric manifestation of a chronic inflammatory syndrome.” Here, they refer specifically to inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Studies have also found depression is closely linked to dysfunction in the gut-brain axis, in which gut inflammation plays an important role.
Artificial Sweeteners Are Also Strongly Associated With Depression
Unfortunately, many are under the mistaken belief they can protect their health by swapping refined sugar for artificial sweeteners. Nothing could be further from the truth, as research suggests artificial sweeteners may actually be more detrimental to your health than regular sugar. For example:
- In a 1986 evaluation of reactions to food additives,17 aspartame (in commonly consumed amounts) was linked to mood alterations such as anxiety, agitation, irritability and depression.
- A 1993 study18 found that individuals with mood disorders are particularly sensitive to aspartame, suggesting its use in this population should be discouraged. In the clinical study, the project was halted by the Institutional Review Board after a total of 13 individuals had completed the study because of the severity of reactions within the group of patients with a history of depression.
- In 2008, researchers asserted that excessive aspartame ingestion might be involved in the pathogenesis of certain mental disorders and may compromise emotional functioning.19
- Research presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in 2013 found that consumption of sweetened beverages — whether they’re sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners — was associated with an increased risk of depression.20,21 The study included nearly 264,000 American adults over the age of 50 who were enrolled in an AARP diet and health study.
At the outset, participants filled out a detailed dietary survey. At a 10-year follow-up, they were asked whether they’d been diagnosed with depression at any point during the past decade.
Those who drank more than four cans or glasses of diet soda or other artificially sweetened beverages had a nearly 30 percent higher risk of depression compared to those who did not consume diet drinks. Regular soda drinkers had a 22 percent increased risk.
To Cure Depression, Be Sure to Address Root Causes
According to the World Health Organization, depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide,22,23 affecting an estimated 322 million people, including more than 16 million Americans. Globally, rates of depression increased by 18 percent between 2005 and 2015.24 According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, 11 percent of Americans over the age of 12 are on antidepressant drugs. Among women in their 40 and 50s, 1 in 4 is on antidepressants.25
While a number of different factors can contribute to depression, I’m convinced diet plays an enormous role. There’s no doubt in my mind that radically reducing or eliminating sugar and artificial sweeteners from your diet is a crucial step to prevent and/or address depression.
One simple way to dramatically reduce your sugar intake is to replace processed foods with real whole foods. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is associated with lower odds of depression and anxiety,26,27 an effect ascribed to antioxidants that help combat inflammation in your body. Certain nutrients are also known to cause symptoms of depression when lacking, so it’s important to eat a varied whole food diet.
Another major contributor to depression and anxiety is microwave exposure from wireless technologies, which I address below. To suggest that depression is rooted in poor diet and other lifestyle factors does not detract from the fact that it’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed with compassion and non-judgment. It simply shifts the conversation about what the most appropriate answers and remedies are.
Considering the many hazards associated with antidepressants (the efficacy of which have been repeatedly found to be right on par with placebo), it would be wise to address the known root causes of depression, which are primarily lifestyle-based. Drugs, even when they do work, do not actually fix the problem. They only mask it.
Antidepressants may also worsen the situation, as many are associated with an increased risk of suicide, violence and worsened mental health in the long term. So, before you resort to medication, please consider addressing the lifestyle strategies listed below.
Nondrug Solutions for Depression
Limit microwave exposure from wireless technologies
Studies have linked excessive exposure to electromagnetic fields to an increased risk of both depression and suicide.28 Power lines and high-voltage cables appear to be particularly troublesome. Addiction to or “high engagement” with mobile devices can also trigger depression and anxiety, according to recent research from the University of Illinois.29
Research30 by Dr. Martin Pall reveals a previously unknown mechanism of biological harm from microwaves emitted by cellphones and other wireless technologies, which helps explain why these technologies can have such a potent impact on your mental health.
Embedded in your cell membranes are voltage gated calcium channels (VGCCs), which are activated by microwaves. When that happens, about 1 million calcium ions per second are released, which stimulates the release of nitric oxide (NO) inside your cell and mitochondria. The NO then combines with superoxide to form peroxynitrite, which in turn creates hydroxyl free radicals, which are the most destructive free radicals known to man.
Hydroxyl free radicals decimate mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, their membranes and proteins. The end result is mitochondrial dysfunction, which we now know is at the heart of most chronic disease. The tissues with the highest density of VGCCs are your brain, the pacemaker in your heart and male testes.
Hence, health problems such as Alzheimer’s, anxiety, depression, autism, cardiac arrhythmias and infertility can be directly linked to excessive microwave exposure.
If you struggle with anxiety or depression, be sure to limit your exposure to wireless technology. Simple measures include turning your Wi-Fi off at night, not carrying your cellphone on your body and not keeping portable phones, cellphones and other electric devices in your bedroom.
Call us for information and help with preventative medicine. If you are not comfortable with that, make sure your physician is certified or had done a specialty in preventative medicine. The trick question to ask is, where did you go to school for that. Easy to look up, not many schools offer it.
Health and Wellness Associates
Dr Anna Sullivan