The ill effects of sugar are known by all people today. Everyone knows that eating too much of processed foods and desserts are going to contribute to health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and others. However, very little attention has been given to the effect of sugar on mental health. A diet that is high in sugar content has been linked to having a detrimental effect on your mood and anxiety. Recently, many researchers have decided to take a long hard look at the effect sugar has on our mental health and why we should be avoiding a high sugar diet for better mental health. In fact, studies have already shown that we should be avoiding sugar when anxious, opting for some healthy food instead. Let us take a look at the impact sugar has on anxiety and what healthier foods should a person suffering from anxiety opt for instead.
The Highs and Lows of Sugar Consumption
Many people often resort to settling down with a tub of their favorite ice cream when under stress.(1, 2) If you are one of those, then you must be well aware of what a sugar rush is. However, the crash that follows next may not be comfortably dealt with by many people.
One of the biggest side effects of consuming a huge amount of processed sugar is that it can give rise to feelings of irritability, sadness and worry.(3) Such a situation can be extremely problematic for individuals who are already dealing with anxiety or depression. The reason why sugar causes this condition is that once you have consumed a large amount of sugar, your body begins to release insulin for absorbing the extra sugar present in the bloodstream, in an attempt to stabilize the body’s blood sugar levels. When you experience a sugar rush, your body starts working extra hard to bring all the systems back to normal functioning levels. This causes a roller coaster ride of highs and lows in emotions, which can leave anyone feeling nervous, irritable, foggy, drained, and jittery.(3) For people who suffer from depression or anxiety, these added symptoms of nervousness, irritability, and sadness only worsen their existing condition.(3)
Sugar Worsens Anxiety
While sugar may not cause anxiety, but studies have shown that it definitely makes anxiety worse.(3) If you suffer from anxiety, then having a large amount of sugar is the last thing you should be doing. The following sugar rush and the subsequent crash leaves you feeling tense, more irritable and shaky – all the symptoms that are likely to worsen your underlying anxiety.
Sugar also lowers the body’s response to stress. This also triggers anxiety and also stops you from dealing with the root cause of stress.
Many studies have already researched the connection between anxiety and sugar intake, but due to the fact that they were performed on rats, the findings are not definite for humans. However, all of them proved without a doubt that there is a huge link between anxiety and sugar intake. Nevertheless, experts are planning to have these kinds of studies conducted on humans to understand the link better.
Sugar Can Drive You to Depression
If you have a sweet tooth, then it becomes quite difficult to avoid reaching for those sweets, particularly if you are stressed. For people suffering from depression, often times sugar makes them feel better. However, if you continue to consume sugar to feel better and as a way to deal with your stress, then it will only worsen the symptoms of hopelessness, stress, anxiety, fatigue and sadness.(3)
This is because over a period of time overconsumption of sugar creates certain imbalances in the chemicals present in our brain.(5) These chemical imbalances can cause depression and may also boost the risk of developing a serious mental health condition in some people.
A study done in June 2017 found that the male participants who consumed a large amount of sugar every day had a 23% higher risk of being diagnosed with clinical depression within the next five years.
While this particular study only focused on male participants, this link between sugar and the risk of depression exists in women as well.
Sugar Withdrawal can Trigger a Panic Attack
The process of quitting processed sugar is not an easy job. This is particularly so if you have a history of getting panic attacks. Sugar withdrawal is an extremely difficult process and many people recommend following the cold turkey way of quitting sugar.
Withdrawing from sugar leads to severe side effects including: irritability, confusion, extreme fatigue and anxiety.(4) In fact, many experts are of the opinion that the withdrawal symptoms from processed sugar are extremely similar to those of some drugs.
It is observed that when someone begins to misuse a drug, for example cocaine, the individual goes into a physiological state of withdrawal once the drug is taken away or when they stop using the same drug.(3, 5) The same scenario has been observed in people addicted to sugar.(3, 4, 5)
People consuming high levels of sugar on a daily basis in their diets are likely to experience the same physiological withdrawal condition once they suddenly stop the intake of sugar.
This is why doctors recommend that if you are suffering from anxiety, going cold turkey is perhaps not going to be the best solution and you may start feeling like you are having a panic attack. This effect gets heightened if you suffer from anxiety disorder or depression.
Opt For These Healthy Foods Instead of Sugar
If you crave for sugar, then ditch the processed sugar and instead, opt for healthier options that will not make you go through a cycle of highs and lows. These foods may include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Dark chocolate(6)
- Snack bars
- Chia seeds(7)
- Sugar-free mints or chewing gum(8, 9, 10, 11)
- Trail mix(12)
While having a sweet treat now and then is perfectly alright, the problem begins if you start experiencing sugar cravings regularly or if you start feeling out of control when you are around sugary foods. By swapping some of your sugary treats with these healthier options, you will be able to satisfy your craving without experiencing the highs of a sugar rush and then the lows of the subsequent crash.
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