Depression and Sugar Addiction

The primary cause of depression is a problem with the hormone serotonin, which is a substance that makes people feel happy and satisfied. Most serotonin is produced in the gut. Many things affect the body’s production of serotonin, including attitude, nutrition, and sleep.

Eating sugar and other high-glycemic carbohydrates (carbs that raise your blood sugar quickly) like white flour triggers the pancreas to secrete a large dose of insulin to control blood sugar levels (insulin is the hormone that shuttles sugar from the blood into cells). Insulin is a precursor to serotonin, so a high insulin level leads to a temporary elevation of serotonin. No wonder they call sugar and carbs comfort foods!

Chronic overconsumption of sugar causes the body to produce less serotonin on its own because it starts relying on the external supply from your sugary diet. This lack of natural serotonin production can cause depression and create a situation where you need sugar to feel good, because you’re producing less serotonin without it.

To maintain a normal level of endorphins in the brain, the sugar abuser must eat more sugar and carbohydrates to relieve the state of depression and maintain a normal mood level. This causes a vicious cycle of addiction.

Interestingly, this is exactly the same cycle that develops with excessive alcohol intake. Alcohol abuse, like sugar abuse, causes many of the endorphin sites to shut down, so to get the feel-good effects normally given by endorphins, the alcoholic must continue to drink alcohol instead.

Additionally, B vitamins (especially folic acid), which are essential for the production of serotonin, are used up to metabolize all that sugar, leaving less for the production of serotonin and other important uses.

Excess fructose (a simple sugar) can exacerbate depression. Research has shown that people who have trouble metabolizing fructose (up to half the population) have lower levels of tryptophan (a serotonin precursor). They also have lower serum zinc and folic acid levels, both of which are associated with depression.

Women already have lower serum levels of tryptophan than men do (which is likely part of the reason why women are more vulnerable to depression), so depleting tryptophan in the diet with fructose may lead to even lower levels, and thus depression.

Statistically, women are more prone to clinical depression than men for several reasons, one being estrogen. Estrogen activates an enzyme called hepatic tryptophan 2, 3 dioxygenase (don’t worry; there won’t be a quiz) that shifts the metabolism of tryptophan from making serotonin (the happy hormone) to making kynurenic acid (a substance that hinders brain function).

Maybe that’s why women get “baby brain” or severe mood swings when estrogen levels rise during pregnancy.

Blood sugar spikes actually destabilize the brain through a harmful process called glycation. Glycation is the chemical process in the body whereby sugars, proteins, and certain fats become tangled together, making all manner of body tissues stiff and inflexible — including the brain. Glycation causes damage in the body that induces rapid aging effects and physically shrinks your brain tissue.

According to the Mayo Clinic, people with depression often have low blood levels of the essential fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Good sources of these essential nutrients are cold-water fish like salmon and tuna and distilled fish oil capsules. Sugar addicts struggling with depression may want to consider adding extra sources of these important fats to their diet.

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