- According to a recent review published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, consuming large amounts of added sugar can up your risk of clinical depression.
It’s best to curb your added sugar intake to no more than 9 teaspoons (or 36 grams) per day if you’re a man and no more than 6 teaspoons (or 25 grams) per day if you’re a woman.
That being said, you don’t have to skip the birthday cake at the office or never take another glimpse at the dessert menu—just be mindful of how much added sugar is in your diet.
If you’ve made 2020 into your “year of less added sugar,” you might find that it’s not just your waistline and heart health that’s affected—your mental wellbeing may be getting some sweet relief as well.
According to a recent review published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, consuming large amounts of added sugars is already associated with adverse health consequences, such as increasing risk of cardiovascular disease, affecting gut health, creating systemic inflammation, prompting insulin resistance, and disrupting hormone signaling—especially dopamine.
A wide range of research on the psychological and physiological effects of sugar consumption was analyzed, including several large studies, like the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, which followed nearly 70,000 women over a three-year period.
Looking at sugar consumption and health, researchers observed that women who consumed the most amount of added sugar were at 23 percent greater risk of subsequent clinical depression than those who consumed the least amount.
Other studies in the Medical Hypotheses review found that incidence of depression for Australian, Chinese, Latino, and Iranian adolescents and adults were also higher in those who reported drinking sugar-sweetened beverages like soda regularly.
Although these reactions can do a number on your physical health, they also increase your risk of major depressive disorder, the researchers suggest. And the more you eat, the worse it gets—particularly for those who live in chilly climates during the winter, when sunlight is weaker and can lower intake of vitamin D. (However, the depression-sugar connection can happen during any season, the study suggests.)
The cycle gets worse as you become depressed, because a common characteristic of winter-onset depression is craving sugar, according to study coauthor Stephen Ilardi, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology at the University of Kansas.
Does that mean you always have to skip the birthday cake at the office, or never even glimpse at another dessert menu? Not at all, Ilardi said, but being aware of how much you’re eating is important.
Having sugar, even the “bad kind,” on an occasional basis is unlikely to create the kind of mood-altering effects seen in this study, he told Runner’s World. Instead, it’s chronic, long-term, high-dose sugar consumption over a span of months that starts to create this perfect storm of physical and mental changes.
That said, Ilardi added that a sugar binge can cause a blood sugar crash that affects mood and energy, thanks to a rebound effect as the pancreas releases an overly large dose of insulin in response. That can put you in sugar blues territory, but it shouldn’t be confused with true clinical depression, said Ilardi.[Stay injury free on the road by getting on the mat with Yoga for Runners.]
But if those sugar binges are a regular, perhaps even daily, occurrence that continue over a few months or longer? That’s a different story. And, as Ilardi pointed out, it’s a common one.
“The average American eats about 22 teaspoons worth of added sugars each day,” he said. “Consuming refined sugar in high doses like that can increase a person’s risk of becoming clinically depressed. That’s the takeaway message here.”
That’s why it’s best to curb your added sugar intake to no more than 9 teaspoons (or 36 grams) per day if you’re a man and no more than 6 teaspoons (or 25 grams) per day if you’re a woman. Any more than that on a regular basis could up your chances of feeling blue, especially when the cold weather comes around.
If you have high risk of depression or are experiencing any signs of it—such as a continuous lack of energy, sadness, anger, anxiety, or insomnia—talk with a doctor about treatment options.