Sugar has become the target of many health crusades over the past few years with it being blamed for obesity, premature aging, and diabetes among many other things.
The question here today though is can sugar trigger anxiety?
Well it has certainly been shown through national studies that countries with high sugar intake have higher rates of depression, and the average American consumes around 22.2 teaspoons of sugar a day, and I am sure most people are well aware of the sugar high and the sugar crash
But what about anxiety?
Unfortunately yes, there are several ways in which anxiety can contribute towards anxiety and panic attacks.
The first is that refined sugars reduce the levels of a chemical called BDNF or brain-derived neutrophic factor in the hippocampus of the brain. It has been shown that low levels of BDNF can cause anxiety and panic disorders.
It has also been shown that continued consumption of refined sugar reduces the amount of endorphines in the brain. This results in a lower mood, and so many people will eat sugar to try and raise their mood, which of course will result in even lower endorphines and lower mood.
As well as this, sugar also increases insulin production in the body which naturally lowers mood.The insulin levels remain high well after the “sugar high” has passed and so the mood is brought crashing down which can result in anxiety.
So basically too much sugar hits your brain with a double whammy – it reduces the endorphines AND increases the insulin, both of which help to tank your mood and can trigger anxiety.
This increase in insulin can make things even worse when they lead to hypoglycaemia. Yes I know it sounds weird as hypoglycaemia actually means low blood sugar but in some people eating refined sugar can actually reduce the amount of glucose in the blood. This is called reactive-hypoglycaemia
If the insulin levels get too high unchecked, too much glucose is converted into energy and the blood sugar levels tank.
The symptoms of hypoglycaemia are
trembling or shakiness.
fast pulse or palpitations.
Very much the same symptoms as a panic attack
In recent years, a new and exciting topic of research has also shown extremely strong links with causing anxiety, and that is the bacteria in your gut. Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria, some good and some bad and it has been shown in many studies that having the wrong balance of gut bacteria can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. This link is becoming big news as you can see by some of these major news headlines.
It has also been shown in research studies that sugar plays a huge role in the development of an unbalance in the gut bacteria as the more unfriendly bacteria thrive on it. So although this is a more indirect link there is little doubt that sugar can eventually lead to anxiety by affecting your gut.
So what can you do?
Well, The easiest thing to do to reduce your refined sugar intake is to cut out sodas and cut down on candy and sugary cakes.
Just one soda can have over 100% of the daily recommended amount of sugar
so cutting out sodas completely can be a good start
The problem is though,there are many other processed foods that hide their real sugar content by using the term HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup)
This is used in a huge amount of foods now in the US as a sweetening agent
so if you really want to test to see if sugar is affecting your anxiety
then you will need to keep a look out for foods containing this HFCS as well
With the increase in sugar consumption in the western diet over the years
It could well be that sugar plays a bigger part in the increase in anxiety than anyone thought.