Kerry Thomas, M.Ed., LPC

Compassionate partnership for a better life.


How Sugar Can Destroy Your Mood

Posted on February 27, 2015 at 12:45 AM

I cannot seem to let go of this relationship between diet and mood, and for very good reason. The evidence suggesting the strength of this relationship between what we put into our bodies on a regular basis and how we feel grows daily.


For now, let’s take a look at sugar.


When we are talking about sugar, we are not just referring to the white, granulated product. Once we eat some pasta, bread, rice or potatoes, our body immediately turns them into sugar as well. Immediately. In fact, white flour makes this incredible transformation while it is still in our mouths.


In addition, most everything that comes out of a box, a bag, a can or a jar contains high amounts of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup. This is particularly evil stuff because approximately 95% of the corn grown in this country is GMO corn. GMO corn is actually a registered pesticide which wreaks havoc on your body in ways that you would not believe and which also affect your mood. But that discussion is for another blog, for now we will just focus on the sugar aspect of this.


Sugar is in all processed food and our diets are much higher in sugar then they were 100 years ago. The typical can of Pepsi has around 17 tsps of sugar….one can! However, “sports” drinks are not much better. A 20 ounce bottle of Gatorade holds 9 teaspoons of the white stuff.


Back in the mid-1800’s the typical American would consume as much sugar in 5 days as we now get in ONE can of soda. Today the average American consumes 3 POUNDS of sugar in one week. Wow.


Sugar impacts mood in numerous ways. I will mention three here, but I am sure this is just the tip of that iceburg, and I’m sure we will continue to uncover more as time marches on.


First of all sugar is a challenge for our bodies to metabolize, and the process robs our body of an essential nutrient essential for good mood . In order for our bodies to metabolize sugar, it utilizes a lot of B vitamins. Our body does not make B


vitamins and sugar has no B vitamins in it. So when we are all consuming sugar to the tune of 1,095 pounds per year, we are really stressing our system of these very important nutrients.


Why are B vitamins so important? Because without B vitamins, we cannot make the neurotransmitters, like serotonin, that are so important to helping sustain a positive mood.


In fact, symptoms of B vitamin deficiency are: depression and vague fears, emotional instability, decreased ability to cope with problems, confusion, forgetfulness, irritability and quarrelsomeness. Nice, eh?


Now I wish we could just stop there, especially given how much of this stuff is in our food. But the impact of sugar on mood goes on.


When we eat sugar, our brains respond the same way that they do when one uses cocaine. What I mean by that is that our brain responds by dumping a ton of dopamine for our neurons to bathe in. In the short term, this makes us feel very happy. A brain soaked in dopamine is a brain flying high.


In fact, animal studies show that a diet rich in sweets is perceived by the brain as more rewarding and even more highly addictive then intravenous cocaine and heroin. How crazy is that?


However our brain instinctively knows how much dopamine it is supposed to be taking up and it will do it’s best to regulate this. Now the brain cannot control how much sugar you eat and thus how much dopamine dump you get, so the only way that it knows how to manage this overload of dopamine is to begin shutting down some of the dopamine receptors that are working in your brain.


This is where the problems start because now you are working with fewer dopamine receptors so that when you are not bathing your brain in sugar/dopamine, your brain becomes dopamine deprived. Less receptors mean less dopamine uptake. This can lead to depression and is also the active process driving addiction. With fewer dopamine receptors you will need to sustain that


sugar intake in order to keep that dopamine level high so that your mood does not sink.


This brings us to the last point I would like to make about sugar as it affects mood. We are now beginning to understand that a common precursor to depression is inflammation. In fact, science is showing us that inflammation is a common precursor to many illnesses.


High amounts of sugar in the diet increase advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs. As the body tries to break these AGEs apart, immune cells secrete inflammatory messengers called cytokines. These guys, depending on where they are or on your genetic predisposition, also cause arthritis, heart disease, poor memory or wrinkled skin. Yikes.


Researchers discovered in the early 1980s that inflammatory cytokines produce a wide variety of psychiatric and neurological symptoms which perfectly mirror the defining characteristics of depression. Further, depression is often present in acute, inflammatory illnesses and remission of clinical depression is often associated with a normalization of inflammatory markers. The link between depression and inflammation is strong. The evidence that sugar causes inflammation in the body is strong.


Just by this precursory look at sugar, we can begin to see how easily our diet can affect our mood. This is only just the beginning.

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