Depression is more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch. It’s a serious mental health condition that requires understanding and medical care. Men consuming more than 67 grams of sugar per day were 23 percent more likely to develop anxiety or depression over the course of five years than those whose sugar consumption was less than 40 grams per day. Other studies have also linked high-sugar diets to a higher risk of depression and anxiety, showing a low-sugar diet is an important part of the prevention and treatment of common mental health problems
Sugar increases your risk of depression by contributing to insulin and leptin resistance, suppressing BDNF, affecting dopamine, damaging your mitochondria and promoting chronic inflammation
A number of other studies have also identified mechanisms by which excessive sugar consumption can wreak havoc with your mental health. For example, eating excessive amounts of sugar:
• Contributes to insulin and leptin resistance and impaired signaling, which play a significant role in mental health.
• Suppresses activity of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key growth hormone that promotes healthy brain neurons. BDNF levels tend to be critically low in both depression and schizophrenia, and animal models suggest this may actually be a causative factor.
• Affects dopamine, a neurotransmitter that fuels your brain’s reward system (hence sugar’s addictive potential and is known to play a role in mood disorders.
• Damages your mitochondria, which can have body-wide effects. Your mitochondria generate the vast majority of the energy (adenosine triphosphate or ATP) in your body. When sugar is your primary fuel, excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secondary free radicals are created, which damage cellular mitochondrial membranes and DNA.
Needless to say, as your mitochondria are damaged, the energy currency in your body declines and your brain will struggle to work properly. Healthy dietary fats, on the other hand, create far fewer ROS and free radicals. Fats are also critical for the health of cellular membranes and many other biological functions, including and especially the functioning of your brain.
Among the most important fats for brain function and mental health are the long-chained animal-based omega-3 fats DHA and EPA. Not only are they anti-inflammatory, but DHA is actually a component in every cell of your body, and 90 percent of the omega-3 fat found in brain tissue is DHA.
• Promotes chronic inflammation which, in the long term, disrupts the normal functioning of your immune system, thereby raising your risk of depression. A 2004 cross-cultural analysis of the relationship between diet and mental illness found a strong link between high sugar consumption and the risk for depression and schizophrenia.
It also concluded that dietary predictors of depression are similar to those for diabetes and heart disease. One of the hallmarks of these diseases is chronic inflammation, which sugar is a primary driver of. So, excessive amounts of sugar can truly set off an avalanche of negative health events — both physical and mental.
Inflammation May Be the No. 1 Risk Factor for Depression
Another previous study published in the International Breastfeeding Journal found inflammation may be more than just another risk factor. It may actually be the primary risk factor that underlies all others. According to the researchers:
“The old paradigm described inflammation as simply one of many risk factors for depression. The new paradigm is based on more recent research that has indicated that physical and psychological stressors increase inflammation. These recent studies constitute an important shift in the depression paradigm: inflammation is not simply a risk factor; it is the risk factor that underlies all the others.
Moreover, inflammation explains why psychosocial, behavioral and physical risk factors increase the risk of depression. This is true for depression in general and for postpartum depression in particular.”
In another study, the researchers suggested “depression may be a neuropsychiatric manifestation of a chronic inflammatory syndrome.” Here, they refer specifically to inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Studies have also found depression is closely linked to dysfunction in the gut-brain axis, in which gut inflammation plays an important role.
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