Sugar, Anxiety, and Depression

By the 1960s the idea of a gut-brain connection had been documented to exist. In actuality Hippocrates, Plato, and Aristotle already dreamed up the concept of a bidirectional communication between our intestines and our brain. Later, William Beaumont demonstrated in the 1840s emotions have a …

By the 1960s the idea of a gut-brain connection had been documented to exist.  In actuality Hippocrates, Plato, and Aristotle already dreamed up the concept of a bidirectional communication between our intestines and our brain.  Later, William Beaumont demonstrated in the 1840s emotions have a direct effect on our digestion, but it wasn’t until the mid 20th century that the reverse direction of communication (gut physiology to influence the brain) was beginning to be established as fact.

Simply stated: What we eat matters to our mental health and our mental health matters concerning what we eat.

When our diet is filled with preservatives, added sugars, and other caustic agents, repercussions are soon to follow.

Let’s start with something we are all aware of – sugar.

Sugar is slowing being understood as a primary cause for overall body inflammation.  We all know too much the influence and direct onslaught sugar can cause to our teeth, waistline, and energy levels.  We see rampant cavities, excess weight, and hyperactivity in kids (and some adults).

With the seemingly endless list of sugar and “non-sugar” options available, it’s no wonder our heads are spinning constantly in confusion about how much is permissible to our health.

The RDA recommends no more than 12 teaspoons of added sugar daily.  This includes sugar added to soda, candy, cereals, yogurt, and many packaged foods. The RDA does not include naturally occurring sugar in fruits, vegetables, and milk.  Yes, milk has natural sugar – lactose.  They seem to have left that allotment to our own judgement (beyond their “food plate” recommendations).

Stick with the advice of “less is more”.

Quick tip:  When the ingredient ends with “-ose”, it’s most likely a sugar.  Whether or not that sugar is nature or man-made is for further investigation.   Read (or skip) to the end for a lengthy list of names for refined sugars.

Many of us eat sugar-laced and laden treats because of the quick hit of energy it gives or  how easily it seems to soothe a craving from deep within our gut.  That craving is partially caused by microbes trying to do their best to survive.  Microbes and our blood glucose regulation organs dutifully attempt to maintain some sort of homeostasis with eat morsel we eat.

Sugar has the power to cause rapid and wide swings in our blood sugar that need to be kept in check by the pancreas, adrenal glands, adipose tissue, liver, and skeletal muscle tissues.   These work in concert with 5 hormones to keep blood sugar in check – at least attempt to in some cases.

Did you see the adrenal glands on that list?

Our adrenal glands may be more known for the production, regulation, and secretion of cortisol.  Cortisol is the “stress” hormone.  We need some cortisol – and at the right times of the day – to have a healthy circadian rhythm.  But when our blood sugar swings constantly or out of control, the cortisol response – and our adrenal glands – have a tough time keeping up.  

Those 5-6 meals a day that you were told would help boost your metabolism are not doing your body any good in the long term.  It is affecting your blood sugar regulation, which affects your adrenal glands, thus affecting cortisol levels and responses.  This is a simple explanation, but true nonetheless.

Do yourself a favor and eat 2-3 meals per day – loaded with animal protein!

Anxiety and depression can be due to intestinal dysbiosis –  a lack of proper functioning.  

Dysbiosis is defined as “an imbalance between the types of organism present in a person’s natural microflora, 

especially that of the gut, thought to contribute to a range of conditions of ill health”.

When gut dysbiosis goes unchecked or untreated, a vicious cycle is ignited.

When the unhealthy microbes are allowed to flourish, a long list of ramifications are bound to occur.  This includes, but is not limited to anxiety and depression.  Sometimes it is a case of the good microbes in the wrong place. Regardless of the scenario, reducing or eliminating added sugar is a simple – not necessarily easy – fix.

Significantly reducing sugar, keeps the lines of communication open between the organs of blood sugar regulation and the central nervous system (CNS) allowing glucose levels to remain stable.

Stress reduction techniques help influence the CNS to stay calm;  inducing the parasympathetic nervous system and while calming the sympathetic nervous system.

We need the parasympathetic nervous system to be in control when we sit down to a meal.  “Rest and Digest” is a common adage for how to create the ideal environment for digestion.  

In  Digestion Matters, details are included as to why it’s crucial to be relaxed when eating.

Relaxation for digestion initiates the sequence that assures proper disinfection of harmful substances, breakdown of dietary protein, and begins the breakdown of nutrients for our small intestine to absorb.

When sugar is over consumed, inflammation stalls out many of these steps and the nutrients needed to support producing and storing serotonin – also known as the “happy hormone”.

In this article, the authors explain the close connection of the gut-brain axis on mental health: “Dysbiosis and inflammation of the gut have been linked to causing several mental illnesses including anxiety and depression, which are prevalent in society today”.

When the gut is healthy and operating harmoniously, hormones, neurotransmitters and immunological factors send signals to the brain, directly and indirectly through various routes.  When gut health is disrupted, even for a short period of time, those channels of communication are dampened or in some cases, shut-down.

Removing sugar is one of the first steps to restoring mental health.  It’s not the only solution, but one of the options that is within your control.

Sugar withdrawal symptoms are real, but do eventually end.  Headaches, fatigue, nausea, moodiness, being “hangry” are all defeated with time and animal protein.  Protein is more satiating than any other macronutrient.  Start there.  

Give it 30 days – take it one day at a time.  One hour at a time.  One minute at a time.

Start with the list below and see what you can remove from your diet today.

Names of Refined Sugars ( click link for PDF download)


Effect of Dietary Sugar Intake on Biomarkers of Subclinical Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Intervention Studies

Cut Down on Added Sugars

Dybiosis definition

Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis

The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: From Motility to Mood