Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Sugar-Depression Connection



It's no secret that white sugar is detrimental to health.  It has been linked with diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease and chronic inflammation.  But did you know that sugar has also been linked with depression?  Diet has an intimate connection with brain health and mood, for better or for worse.  Sugar is top on the list of offenders when it comes to throwing off the biochemical balance that keeps us healthy and happy.

Refined sugar and carbohydrates (white sugar, white flour, white pasta, etc.) are incomplete foods.  Rather than providing your body with nutrients, they actually nutrients from your body as they are digested.  In the case of sugar, these include B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and trace minerals.  The same nutrients that sugar consumption depletes are responsible for the production of serotonin  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in many body processes, including mood.  Without adequate levels, depression results. 

Even though most people know that sugar is detrimental, they continue to consume it.  The reason why has to do with more than just its sweet taste.  Sugar triggers pleasurable dopamine and opiod signals in the brain, lifting one's mood.  The problem is, the brain can become addicted to stimulating the release of its own opiods just as it would to morphine.  The abnormally high stimulation of the receptors by refined sugars generates excessive reward signals in the brain.  The use of sugar can usurp the brain's natural processes enough that it can become dependent on sugar to feel good.


The solution?  Use whole food carbohydrate sources.  Whole foods contain necessary co-factors- minerals, B Vitamins, fiber and antioxidants- along with the sugars they contain, which means they nourish rather than deplete you.   Good examples are fruits, brown rice, amaranth, raw honey, quinoa or sweet potatoes.  A study of 3,456 middle-aged civil servants, published in British Journal of Psychiatry found that those who had a diet high in processed foods had a 58% increased risk for depression, whereas those whose diet contained more whole foods instead had a 26% reduced risk for depression.  Remember, even small changes in sugar eating habits make a big difference.

References:

"The Most Unhappy of Pleasures:  This is Your Brain on Sugar," by Dr. Mercola

"Depression," available from www.foodforthebrain.org

The Sugar Blues by William Duffy

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