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Does sugar cause depression?

Tea Franco and Anna Sharpe

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We are all aware that a diet high in sugar is unhealthy for our bodies, but is it unhealthy for our minds as well? New studies suggest that, yes, sugar can be detrimental to one’s mental health. The theory is that in some cases of depression- those in which neither therapy or medication is beneficial to the patient- that the person suffering from depression is essentially allergic to the sugars and refined flours found in highly processed foods. When ingested, this causes feelings of depression and often suicidal thoughts.

The reason that sugar is so bad for mental health lies in the way that it breaks down in one’s body. Too much sugar in one’s diet increases inflammation throughout the body, specifically the brain. Current research has suggested that brain inflammation is tied to depression. In fact, a study published in JAMA Psychiatry found out that clinically depressed patients have 30% more brain inflammation than those not mentally ill. They also concluded that patients who take some form of anti-inflammatory medication saw a decrease in symptoms. It is also apparent that refined carbohydrates lead to depression as well. Columbia University conducted a study using information from the Women’s Health Initiative, that showed that the higher a woman’s blood sugar rose after eating refined carbs, the higher her risk was for depression. While some people’s depression may not be caused directly by sugar intake, it is likely that it can worsen symptoms. A study from the University of Northwestern Ohio examined the effect of an artificial sweetener on people who have been diagnosed with depression and found that it worsened their symptoms. In fact, it worsened them so bad that the study had to be stopped due to the subjects developing suicidal thoughts.

Depression is caused, in most people, by a chemical imbalance in their brains. This is due to a smaller amount of neurotransmitters in a depressed person’s brain than normal. The loads of antidepressants available including Amitriptyline, Sertraline (Zoloft), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Citalopram (Celexa), Fluvoxamine, Aripiprazole (Abilify), Bupropion (Wellbutrin), Venlafaxine (Effexor), Mirtazapine (Remeron), Duloxetine (Cymbalta), Buspirone, Imipramine (Tofranil-pm), Selegiline (Eldepryl), Nortriptyline (Pamelor), Trazodone (Desyrel), Fluoxetine (Prozac), Desvenlafaxine, and Paroxetine (Paxil) are effective in correcting that imbalance. But what if you have a perfectly balanced brain and you’re still depressed? This is where sugar in your diet comes to play. Caroline Williams, a science writer, made the connection to depression and inflammation in the brain. This inflammation is an allergic reaction to sugar. Some sufferers of depression, such as Therese Borchard, reported that when she stopped eating sugar her depression significantly got better. In her piece Could Depression be an Allergic Reaction? She cites others who stopped eating sugar or foods that were high in sugar and their depression went away.

So this opens the question: is that terribly long list of prescriptions needed to treat depression? The answer is still yes. While depression can be fixed for some by adjusting their diet, that doesn’t mean it will work for the two-thirds of people who do respond to antidepressants. Eliminating sugar is the simple, first step to treating depression, and it should be seen as that, a first step. Prescriptions and study trials should not be plan A, but should be what happens after a patient tries cleaning his or her diet.

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The student news site of Summerville High School.
Does sugar cause depression?