Could You Have a Case of the Sugar Blues? Ways to Move from Sad to Happy | Santa Fe Monthly - March 6, 2013

"Develop a toolbox of activities you enjoy, social connections that support you and a daily diet that can smooth out the Sugar Blues!"

Photo: Lauri Andler

Feeling down, melancholy, mentally “lazy?” Too much sugar could be the culprit! Having occasional days of low mood with low mental and physical energy is part of the spectrum of life. Endless days in a sad, melancholy or de-energized state is not. 

A caveat here: Should you experience daily reluctance to get out of bed, isolate yourself from loved ones, have difficulty with functional tasks such as going to work, or experience thoughts of self-harm, get an evaluation by your doctor or a mental health professional. 

The rate of diagnosed mild tomoderate depression has risen alarmingly in recent decade, and the most common treatment is anti-depressant medication. Multiple reviews of the effects of antidepressant medication on those diagnoses have shown no more benefits than with the effects of lifestyle changes and cognitive behavioral counseling. Most concerning is that, unlike counseling and lifestyle changes, all antidepressant medications have side effects.

So why this increase in depression? The American diet and sedentary lifestyle are major contributors. The excessive sugar consumed in the U.S. is definitely a culprit. The brain operates on glucose, and requires an even supply to function in an optimum fashion. People with diabetes or pre-diabetes (elevated blood sugar not quite in the diabetes range) are much more likely to be depressed due to chronically elevated blood sugar levels, which slow down the processes of the brain. Even with “normal” glucose regulation, the sugar loads that most Americans consume on a daily basis cause spikes and lows in blood sugar levels which affect brain function and the availability of endorphins like dopamine and serotonin, which elevate our mood. All that sugar in the American diet really does set us up for the “Blues.”

Shifting Your Blue Mood

What is the magic formula to bring back the ”feel good” mood? Exercise more, cut the simple sugars out of your diet and eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains for your carbohydrate fuel. This is simple to say, harder to implement, yet worth every minute or cent invested.

Who would have thought that a brisk walk, a cardio fitness or Zumba class or a stint in the gym could reduce stress, ward off feelings of depression and anxiety and boost self esteem?

But it does. It works. It’s cheaper than medication and with no side effects besides a sweaty body and sore muscles. So, why are anti-depressants being prescribed for even the mildest of “depression”? You’ll have to ask the pharmaceutical companies about that. Exercise provides one remedy for those time s of sadness and anxiety; the proper diet helps to get at one of the causes.

Eating well by avoiding simple, processed sugar and increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains is the key to providing your brain with the even supply of glucose that it needs to think, process and balance our mood fluctuations. The complex carbohydrates in these foods break down gradually, smoothing out the spikes and lows, and provide additional benefits with components such as B complex vitamins, which enhance the availability of serotonin and dopamine for that “feel good” benefit.

A chronic case of the “blues” is not inevitable. Take control of the way you respond to the inevitable bumps in the road of life. Develop a toolbox of activities you enjoy, social connections that support you and a daily diet that can smooth out the Sugar Blues!