Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Sugar Connection to Anxiety and Depression

     Sugar, the should be four letter word, and the link to anxiety, depression, and a host of other behavioral health issues like anger, fits of rage, alcoholism, schizophrenia, and hyperactivity is well documented among medical journals and in medical research. Why then do doctors negate this crucial fact? In the journal from the National Center of Biotechnology at the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health it is written that "People with  mood disorders often have poor quality diets which are low in fruits and vegetables but high in fats and sugar".  (1) Based on my own observations of my two children, myself, and others in my family, I  have believed for years that not only does a high sugar diet cause anxiety, depression and fits of rage but that the problems people experience from infancy into adulthood that are linked to high sugar diets start in the womb with maternal nutrition and the amount or sugar consumed by mom impacts the child's nutritional likes and dislikes once born. This then can set them up for a lifetime of health complications. 
     While carrying one of my children, I ate an extremely healthy diet with a lot of seasonal fresh vegetables and fruits as well as meats and fish and limited amounts of processed foods with little to no sugar and carbohydrate contents. That child loves all foods and is not a picky eater. With my other child, I was going through an extremely stressful time and craved all things called simple carbohydrates like Bruegger's bagels with honey walnut cream cheese, chips, and sweets.  To this day, she has a high simple carbohydrate and sugar diet and consumes minimal vegetables or fruits.  I believe that the foods that they gravitated towards as children and now as young adults was somewhat preordained due to what I ate while pregnant (2). In fact, studies in medical journals point to this fact.  I am hopeful but not confident due to the way our current system is set up to work, that as independent science proves what I have already surmised through observation that more education from healthcare providers to patients will occur. 
       Sugar is toxic to the brain and cardiovascular system and a diet high in sugar creates large nutritional deficits due to a lesser amount of nutrient rich foods being consumed. This leads to not only cognitive impairments, behavioral complications and heart disease but also diseases such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, fatty liver disease  and secondary complications of those diseases such as neuropathyretinopathy,  alzheimers, dementia, decreased immune function, non healing ulcers, and chronic fatigue, etc. But for this post we will just stick with how sugar plays a role in anxiety, depression and anger. 

     Scientists are now admitting  that nutrition plays an integral role in whether genes are turned off or on. So for instance, if you walk into a room and the light is turned off the  room will be dark.  In order to get light into that room something has to switch that light on.  It is the same with genes. Genes have to have a force that  turns the switch on for the predisposition of that gene to be activated. 

     In fact, scientists now admit that only 20% of our risk for disease is genetic and the other 80% is linked to diet and lifestyle.  Sugar is a key player in diseases like cancer and has been noted even as far back as 1927 in the Warburg Effect.  Where it pertains to behavior and conditions like anxiety, depression and anger sugar is the primary culprit due to its effects on the brain and the adrenal gland.  When we eat a high sugar diet, I believe it is the switch that turns on these conditions. Oral sugar ingestion is comparable to receiving an injection of it right into the blood stream. The body has to do very little work to break down the simple sugars  found in simple carbohydrates and therefore uses it first before turning it to other nutrients for energy. 

     Due to it being broken down and entering the bloodstream so rapidly, it is also used up very quickly and therefore once it hits the bloodstream and is being used whatever is not being used is bound up by the insulin and stored for later use and much of this is stored around the middle section of our bodies, hence the term spare tire. The storing of this extra sugar occurs much faster for people with more sedentary lifestyles as they require less fuel for energy needs. When the sugar is used and or stored for later energy needs the blood sugar levels drop in the blood and this leaves the body feeling tired, and depleted craving more quick energy and so the cycle continues as we grab more simple carbohydrates to refuel. Over time this vicious cycle leads to a condition known as hypoglycemia. 
     Hypoglycemia causes the body to react by directing the adrenal gland to release epinephrine and norepinephrine,  two hormones that act counter to the action of insulin by rising blood glucose levels. Both of these hormones make people jittery, and nervous or anxious. When the brain becomes hypoglycemic it too responds and releases a neurotransmitter known as glutamate . This is the main neurotransmitter (message carrier of the nerves) that causes excitability and turns the brain into high gear. When the brain is kicked into high gear and is overly excited, you can see how this can increase the feelings of nervousness, jitteriness, and anxiety. When this highly agitated state wears off then one is left feeling low or depressed and restless or agitated which can result in emotions of frustration, inability to concentrate, anger and impulsivity until the  craving for more sugar is satisfied. This is a cycle that continues until it is stopped by eliminating a high sugar diet and giving the body "real" food that nourishes and provides the right components to support brain and nervous system functioning. The problem is that giving up sugar is much harder than people realize (see tricks on how to be successful at this in my next post). 
     Sugar and its role in these behavioral issues has been researched for years. One research study done in New York looked at the role of excitability and the inability for school age children to focus due to a high sugar diet and therefore decreasing their standardized test scores. What the study showed was that when these children were given breakfasts and lunches with lowered amounts of sucrose, synthetic food colors and flavors and two preservatives (BHA and BHT) that the city's national school rankings had improved from 39th to 55th (3).  There have also been articles published regarding anxiety and depression and nutrition in medical publications such as PubMed in which there shows a clear relationship to nutrition's effect on anxiety and depression (4).
   Regarding anger and high sugar diets related to the hypoglycemic effects of feeling jittery and anxious and craving more sugar it has been shown that 75% of all prisoners were hyperactive as children which has been linked with high sugar diets. This high sugar diet when consumed as children then sets them up for criminal activity as adults. When adults are more prone to nervousness, and anger that leads to fits of rage due to hypoglycemia then the result many times can lead to criminal acts. In part, I believe that it is also because when the brain is starved from key nutrients and is unable to operate properly and people can't think logically and clearly it causes a great deal of frustration which also leads many times to fits of rage. A study done by a parole officer in Ohio which looked at inmates who when out on probation changed their diets to a healthy low sugar and low processed food diet had a recidivism  rate of only 8%. This was then compared to the bad diet group which had a rate of 56% as cited in Dr. Russell Blaylock's work. Other studies have been done that showed when prisoner's diets were supplemented with vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids that inmates violence behavior decreased (5).
     So, if we know all of this, why then for years has the federal government and it's friends the biotech firms and right down to the doctors been handing out food pyramids that look like this? 
     It is because the US government pushes onto the public for public consumption whatever food products that they are most heavily subsidizing by creating the guidelines.  These guidelines are then pushed on your doctors to push onto you, the consumer of food and user of the disease management industry.  In 2009, guess what foods were the most subsidized? 1.) Corn (which is used in everything from soda, to bread, chips, crackers, cookies, cakes, etc.), 2.) Wheat (that is enriched wheat meaning all of the natural key nutrients have been stripped from the wheat in processing and adding back in through manufacturing; not the healthiest), 3.) Rice, 4.) Beer and 5.) Milk.  This is why it has been cheaper to buy a loaf of bread, a box of pasta, crackers, cookies, chips, or sodas, etc than it was a pound of broccoli. It is not about the health of the people but about the wealth of the biotech firms and the politicians.  I tell people that if they want to get healthy the first thing that they have to do is ignore everything the government, food industry and yes even their doctors tell them. Even now with the recent transition from the pyramid to the plate you must be wise. 
     Today there are over 30 approved GMO crops in the US.  Many vegetables are among the awarded approvals since the nineteen nineties. Today in the US 1 in 13 children now have a food allergen and the prevalence of childhood allergens has increased by 50% in the last 20 years. Coincidence? I think not. With that being said, I do think the way to eliminate much anxiety, depression, anger, alcoholism, adhd and other behavioral issues is through a constant nutrient dense diet of vegetables and healthy fats with minimal sugar but we must be aware from what food sources we are obtaining these nutrients and whether they have been genetically modified. We must pick foods that have not been genetically modified through the DNA gene manipulation processes of industrial agriculture because our bodies don't recognize these kinds of food alterations and as a result send out immune responses. This leads to autoimmune diseases for which we are now plagued with and have costly patented drugs awarded under the ACA with 12 year patents to treat. We must, instead, eat those foods which supply the brain with a constant source of energy, are low in sugar and are GMO free. 
     What foods are brain nutrient packed foods that aid in a decrease in conditions like anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and an increase in attention and mental clarity? Foods that contain the essential minerals of zinc and magnesium and vitamins of B and C. Why?  Decreased levels of zinc have been shown to prevent enhanced communication, increase the risk of dementia, and promote cognitive decline. Increased levels of zinc have been shown  to improve learning and memory capabilities and in children low zinc levels have been shown to be associated with lower learning ability, apathy, hyperactivity and mental retardation. Low levels of zinc are also associated with alcoholism, and schizophrenia (6).  Magnesium rich foods have been shown to increase and aid learning and memory (7).  B vitamins help brain cells quickly receive and send neurotransmitters and they work in conjunction with vitamin C in increasing the neurotransmitters of the CNS for which the brain is the powerhouse. Both, help to convert key molecules that the cells use for energy and especially the fuel hungry brain cells.  The brain's rate of metabolism is so high that even when placed into a drug induced coma where people have to be placed on respirators the brain's rate of metabolism can only be reduced by 50%.   Due to the brain requiring key nutrients to support this high rate of metabolism it is essential that we care for it and feed it the right foods that aid its processes.
   Foods to fuel the brain that are high in the above noted minerals and vitamins are as follows:

  • Chard
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Almonds
  • Black beans
  • Figs
  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Dark chocolate
  • Salmon
  • Artichokes
  • Flaxseeds
  • Beef (grass fed with no hormones or antibiotics)
  • Chickpeas
  • Garlic
  • Oysters
  • Mushrooms
  • Kefir
  • Watermelon seeds
  • Lima beans
  • Lentils
  • Parsley
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Mustard greens
  • Asparagus
  • Turnip greens
  • Bell peppers
  • Oranges
  • Guava
  • Kale
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Red peppers
Remember this list when preparing meals for your family and especially as you send your children off to the classroom over the next few weeks. Breakfast should not consists of foods like pop tarts, pancakes, bagels, biscuits, sugary cereals or sugar laden "energy bars". Don't let a grocery store lobbying group dictate to you what constitutes breakfast. Breakfast can be whole grain toast with avocado and lemon juice with salt, pepper and garlic, a bowl of chickpeas, a kale smoothie, a banana dipped in almond butter, etc. Remember this is your journey to wellness and you get to write your story! Don't allow biotech firms, Washington politicians, or the disease management industry to make money off diseases that you develop which are preventable. Eat great, feel great and look great! Happy eating until next time. 

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3762204/

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3762204/

3.  http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/new-york-city-school-children-do-better-diet-improves

4.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4167107/

5. http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/181/1/22.short

6.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7082716

7.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20152124


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