Sugar and Depression

For some people, sugar and refined carbohydrates act like a drug and like any other drug, they can give you an initial high then send your mood spiralling, resulting in mood swings, depression and anxiety. Sugar and refined carbohydrates like white flour and white rice are absorbed into the bloodstream in minutes. They cause a sudden spike in blood sugar which can give you a real boost in energy, but when blood sugar rises too high, the pancreas rushes to release insulin, which takes sugar from the bloodstream and stores it as fat. Blood sugar then falls too low, and this is called hypoglycemia.

Symptoms of Sugar Addiction and Hypoglycemia

Symptoms of sugar addiction and hypoglycemia can include:

  • cravings for sugar, alcohol or refined flours
  • nervousness, anxiety
  • depression
  • moodiness
  • impulsiveness
  • anger
  • fatigue
  • dizziness, trembling, cold sweats
  • headaches
  • digestive problems
  • poor memory
  • insomnia
  • confusion
  • internal trembling
  • heart palpitations
  • muscle pains or numbness
  • indecisiveness
  • low sex drive
  • allergies

Take the sugar addiction test to find out if you could be addicted to sugar. Or, take our 13 depression tests to find out if you could have one of 13 common causes of depression.

Insulin causes the sugar to be stored as fat around the abdomen, and as fat stores around the abdomen increase, insulin becomes less and less effective. Eventually the body's supply of insulin can't reduce blood sugar enough and diabetes results.

Sugar also contributes to depression by robbing the body of B vitamins. Our bodies need B vitamins for the production and dopamine and serotonin, two of the brain's most important "happiness chemicals". Whether you have hypoglycemia or sugar addiction or not, one of the most important things you can do for depression is to cut down on your sugar intake.

Diagnosis of Sugar Addiction and Hypoglycemia

Glucose tolerance tests are often used to test for hypoglycemia, but aren't always reliable. The test involves drinking a glass of sugar water on an empty stomach then measuring blood sugar levels several times over a period of 2 to 6 hours. Taking a hit of sugar with no other food like this will cause a hypoglycemic person's sugar levels to spike then drop very low, with accompanying symptoms like anxiety, headaches and depression. Because of this, many practitioners diagnose hypoglycemia from symptoms alone and do not use the glucose tolerance test.

Diabetes on the other hand can be tested for reliably. If you have any of the common symptoms of diabetes, such as frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss,  increased fatigue, irritability or blurry vision, it is important to see a doctor for testing.

Treatment of Sugar Addiction and Hypoglycemia

The only way to resolve sugar addiction and hypoglycemia is with a healthy diet - avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates and eat plenty of protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and moderate amounts of complex carbohydrates. However for the sugar sensitive person, sugar and refined carbohydrates are powerfully addictive drugs and can be just as difficult to give up as any other drug. If you've tried to cut back on sugar before and failed, it's not because you lack willpower. It's because you're addicted to sugar.

Fortunately there are several nutrients that stabilise blood sugar levels and can eliminate sugar and carbohydrate cravings within 24 hours:

Many studies have shown that chromium stabilises blood sugar levels in both hypoglycemics and type 2 diabetics. [1]. This vital nutrient directly reduces cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates. Sugar, white flour and alcohol all interfere with chromium absorption and as a result, most people who eat a typical American diet high in junk foods are very deficient in chromium.

L-Glutamine is an amino acid (a building block of protein) that the brain can use instead of glucose when blood sugar levels are low. It can have a powerful, almost instantaneous effect on cravings.

Biotin is a B vitamin that also helps stabilise blood sugar and reduce cravings.

Zinc, Vitamin E, several other B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids are all important for stabilising blood sugar levels, and all are depleted on a typical American diet.

The Diet Cure has detailed instructions for using these nutrients to eliminate cravings. Once the cravings are gone you will find it much easier to change to a healthy diet that will stabilise your blood sugar, balance your mood and eliminate depression. The Diet Cure recommends eating at least 20 grams of protein at each meal, as protein helps to stabilise blood sugar by causing the body to release glucagon, a hormone that balances the action of insulin. Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables provide the vitamins and minerals that are needed to keep blood sugar stable. Healthy fats help prevent carbohydrate cravings.

It is important to completely avoid all forms of sugar and refined carbohydrates, including alcohol, white flour and white rice. Cheating and having "just one" cookie or piece of cake can trigger cravings and set off a sugar binge. For the sugar sensitive, it's usually much easier to avoid sugar altogether than to eat just a small amount of sugar.

Many packaged foods contain sugar disguised under a variety of names. The following are all forms of sugar and should be avoided:

agave brown sugar
amazake cane juice
barley malt confectioner's sugar
beet sugar corn syrup
brown rice syrup corn sweetener
date sugar mannitol
dextrin maple sugar
dextrose microcrystalline cellulose
fructose oligosaccharides molasses
fructose polydextrose
fruit juice concentrate powdered sugar
galactose raisin juice
glucose raisin syrup
granulated sugar raw sugar
high-fructose corn syrup sorbitol
honey Sucanat
invert sugar sucrose
lactose sugarcane
maltodextrin turbinado sugar
malted barley unrefined sugar
maltose white sugar
maltitol xylitol

Fruit is high in sugar and should always be eaten in small amounts together with protein to avoid a blood sugar spike. Fruit juices and dried fruits are very high in sugar and should generally be avoided by anyone with blood sugar problems.

Complex carbohydrates such as grain breads and brown rice are needed to provide energy for the body, but if eaten in excess can trigger cravings in some people. They are best eaten as part of a balanced meal containing proteins, healthy fats and vegetables.

If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of such a major change to your diet, Potatoes Not Prozac: Solutions for Sugar Sensitivity provides a seven step program for treating sugar addiction. This is a particularly good program for helping you convert to a healthy, blood sugar friendly diet in small, manageable steps, especially when combined with chromium, l-glutamine, biotin and the other supplements for eliminating cravings and stabilising blood sugar.

Other Things to Consider

Blood sugar problems often lead to adrenal fatigue - when blood sugar falls too low, the adrenal glands rush to release cortisol, a hormone that boosts blood sugar levels. If this happens on a regular basis, cortisol levels eventually become depleted and the adrenals become exhausted. Take the Adrenal Fatigue Test to find out if adrenal fatigue could be contributing to your depression.

Other Causes of Depression

Take our 13 depression tests to find out if you could have any of the other common causes of depression.

Where to Find More Information

Depression Free NaturallyThe Diet Cure This book has the best information we have found for using natural supplements to overcome sugar addiction. 

Potatoes Not Prozac - Solutions for Sugar SensitivityPotatoes Not Prozac: Solutions for Sugar Sensitivity For those of you who would like to convert to a sugar free diet one step at a time, this book offers a very well thought out step by step program. The author also has very active and supportive online forums for those following each step of the program to treat depression. Unlike most other books on sugar addiction, this one focuses specifically on the link between sugar and depression.

[1] Robert C. Atkins M.D. The Vita-Nutrient Solution: Nature's Answer to Drugs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998)