How Sugar May Harm Your Mental Health

Sugar, especially refined white sugar which has been processed, inflates waistlines and contributes to obesity. But, while some studies have shown that sugar may have a detrimental effect on the mood, not a whole lot of research has been done on sugar’s effects on mental health.

In a past post, Good, Good, Good Nutrition, part II: Foods to Avoid When Managing Bipolar Disorder, we covered how sugar can cause wild mood swings in bipolar patients. And how obesity can make some bipolar medications ineffective, especially if the weight is gained around the middle. But there are other ways sugar harms mental health.

Let’s dig in.

Addictive Properties

The addictive properties of sugar have been studied in recent years, though the research is still controversial. But anyone who’s craving a chocolate fix can understand how additive sugar is. Sugar and actual drugs both flood the brain with dopamine, a feel-good chemical which changes the brain over time. Among people who binge eat, the sight of a milkshake activated the same reward centers of the brain as cocaine, according to a Yale University study. Speaking of cocaine, rats actually prefer sugar water to the hard drug. And according to a 2007 study, rats who were given fats and sugar to eat demonstrated symptoms of withdrawal when the foods were taken away.

sugar
A spoonful of sugar on a black background. Credit to flickr.com user Gunilla G. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Cognitive Effects

Sugar may also affect your ability to learn and remember things. Six weeks of drinking a fructose solution similar to soda caused the rats taking it to forget their way out of a maze, according to a University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) study. In the same study, rats who ate a high-fructose diet that also included omega-3 fatty acids found their way out of the maze even faster than the controls, who ate a standard diet for rats. The increased-sugar diet without omega 3s caused insulin resistance in the rats, which leads to diabetes and damaged brain cells crucial for memory.

Depression

Countries with high-sugar diets experience a high incidence of depression. Mood disorders may also be affected by the highs and lows of sugar consumption and subsequent crashes. In schizophrenic patients, a study has shown that eating a lot of sugar links to an increased risk of depression.

The researchers behind the study produced a couple of theories to explain the link. Sugar suppresses the activation of a hormone called BDNF, which is found at low levels in people with schizophrenia and clinical depression. Sugar also contributes to chronic inflammation, which impacts the immune system and brain. Studies show that inflammation can cause depression.

Anxiety

Sugar consumption doesn’t cause anxiety, but it does appear to worsen anxiety symptoms. Sugar also causes the inability to cope with stress. Rats who ate sugar and then fasted showed symptoms of anxiety, according to a 2008 study. In a study in the following year, rats who ate sugar (as opposed to honey) were more likely to suffer anxiety. While you cannot cure anxiety through a change in diet, you can help the body cope with stress and minimize symptoms if you avoid sugar.

The Bottom Line

The good news is, people are consuming less sugar now that the risks to eating it are clearer. A decade ago, Americans ate sugar for 18% of their daily calories, but today that’s dropped to 13%. The more we learn about the human body and how our choices in foods affect us, the more we can tailor our diets to maximize the benefits to our health and minimize the risks.

Related:

 

Show me some love!

Depression Changes Our Language

depression
Credit to flickr.com user darkwood 67. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Depression. A pit of despair for many people. Scientists have attempted to pin down the relationship between depression and language for a long time now, and technology has just given researchers the breakthrough they needed.

In the past, field studies were carried out by scientists who took notes on what people said. Now, computers can analyze banks of data in seconds, picking up on patterns that a human analyst might miss. Researchers fed personal essays, diary entries, and blog posts to their computers and found some interesting patterns in the language of people suffering from depression.

It should come as no surprise that people who deal with depression use more negative language, with words such as “lonely,” “sad,” and “miserable.” But what surprised the scientists was the use of first-person pronouns, such as “I,” “myself,” and “me.” People who suffer from depression apparently don’t use very many second- and third-person pronouns, such as “you,” “they,” and “them,” indicating that depression is a self-focused disease. Researchers found that the pronoun usage was more indicative of depression than the negative language.

However, on an examination of 64 different forums, absolutist language, using words such as “always,” “never,” and “completely,” was a better indicator of mental health issues than negative language or pronouns. On suicidal ideation forums, the use of absolutist language was 80% greater than language used by 19 control forums. This shows that people who suffer from depression have a black-and-white outlook.

Scientists hope that computers will soon be able to classify mental disorders from blog posts. Such classification is already outperforming trained therapists.

Show me some love!

Bipolar Patients More Than Twice As Likely to Have Suffered Childhood Adversity

file folder
Credit to flickr.com user Zach Korb. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

A new study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry looking at more than thirty years into bipolar disorder research found that people with the disorder are 2.63 times more likely to have suffered adversity as children than the general population.

Adversity is defined here as emotional, sexual, or physical abuse, or the loss of a parent before the age of nineteen. While the loss of a parent did not raise the risk of a bipolar diagnosis significantly, people who were emotionally abused were more than four times as likely to have a subsequent diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

The study, run by researchers at the University of Manchester, gathered data from millions of patient interviews in nineteen studies between 1980 and 2014. The authors of the study believed that bipolar disorder had a similar link to childhood adversity like schizophrenia, and does not just stem from bio-genetics.

The hope that the researchers have is that specialized therapy plans can be put into place for people who have suffered childhood abuse, and that future diagnoses can take into account personal histories.

Show me some love!

Antibiotics Linked to Manic Episodes

Have you ever taken an antibiotic and felt more manic? There might be a reason for that.

 

antibiotics
Credit to flickr.com user Iqbal Osman. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Researchers have found a link–not cause and effect, mind, just a link–between antibiotics and manic episodes in people with mental disorders. Robert Yolken and a research team at John Hopkins University reviewed medical records of patients treated for mania, major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia at the Sheppard Pratt, a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore. The scientists also surveyed over five hundred controls–people without mental disorders–about their antibiotic use.

 

What they found is shocking. In the manic patients, 7.7 percent were taking antibiotics, compared to 1.3 percent of the controls. This is a more than a fivefold increase in the odds of being in the mania group. However, only 4 percent of the people hospitalized for bipolar depression and 3 percent of the people hospitalized for schizophrenia were taking antibiotics.

Yolken’s team examined whether the place of infection, such as the mouth, skin, or respiratory system correlated with hospitalization, and determined that the site of the infection didn’t seem to matter.

There are several ways that antibiotic use could impact psychiatric symptoms. The infection itself could lead to inflammation. Or the antibiotic could kill off good bacteria, which could also lead to inflammation.

The research team is conducting more studies to see how this link works. For example, one study is examining whether suppressing inflammation in the gut will reduce the recurrence of manic episodes.

Show me some love!

Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder

alcohol
Credit to flickr.com user Zhao. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Sometimes, the symptoms of bipolar disorder–including periods of elevated mood, depression, and irritability–are too difficult to deal with. Often, people turn to drugs and alcohol to try to cope.

“Some people attempt to treat symptoms of their mental illness with substances, but substance abuse can activate or prolong symptoms,” Marissa Krick, a writer for DrugRehab.com, said in an email.

Krick cited studies saying that up to 60 percent of people who suffer from bipolar disorder confess that they’ve also abused drugs or alcohol. People who suffer symptoms of acute mania or bipolar II disorder are significantly more likely to abuse benzodiazepine and alcohol than people who suffer from depression, according to the Zurich Cohort Study. In addition, a history of substance abuse complicates recovery from acute manic states.

The writers at DrugRehab.com have penned an extensive report on substance abuse in conjunction with bipolar disorder. It’s worth a read. According to the report, “Substance abuse makes symptoms of bipolar disorder worse and decreases the benefits of standard treatment. People tend to take longer to recover, spend more time in health facilities and be more likely to contemplate suicide when they misuse substances during treatment.”

But there is hope. Rehabilitation facilities can treat both substance abuse and bipolar disorder concurrently. Treatment for substance abuse starts with a detoxification process, whereas treatment for bipolar disorder involves medication and behavioral therapy. Patients going through drug or alcohol withdrawal are kept as comfortable as possible.

Show me some love!