The World Health Organization rates depression as a leading cause of disease burden among high-income countries. While psychological issues, chemical imbalances, and triggers such as stress and trauma may be associated with the development of depression, nutrition also plays a role.

Research shows a link between mood and blood sugar (sugar circulating in your blood). According to the Brain Bio Centre, a London-based mental health clinic, poor blood sugar balance is often the single biggest factor in mood disorders among people they see.

How Sugar May Increase Risk of Depression

Sugar exerts damage in the brain in two primary ways. First, it suppresses activity of BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a key growth hormone critically low in people with depression and schizophrenia. BDNF promotes the health and maintenance of neurons in the brain and plays a vital role in memory by prompting the growth of new connections between neurons. In lab studies, researchers find low BDNF levels can trigger depression in animals.

Sugar also triggers a cascade of chemical reactions that promote chronic inflammation, which disrupts the immune system and wreaks havoc on the brain.

What's more, Stephen Ilardi, PhD, who specializes in treating depression, says humans did not have access to refined sugars until recently and now we crave foods our bodies were never designed to process.

How to Kick the Sugar Habit

Americans consume more than 150 pounds of sugar per person per year, says Nancy Appleton, author of Lick the Sugar Habit and Suicide by Sugar. Significantly reducing your sugar consumption has far-reaching benefits, including reducing your risk of depression and preventing serious disease.

While reducing sugar consumption is an important step to improving mental and physical health, it's not as easy as it sounds. Manufacturers include sugar—in many forms—in many foods, including the ones you'd least expect.

Food manufacturers call sugar many different names in ingredient lists. Mark Hyman, MD, says sugar by any other name is still sugar—and it's all harmful. In fact, he lists 40 common food ingredients that are really just a form of sugar, including brown rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, and beet sugar. Hyman warns that even healthy sounding sweeteners, such as agave, contain fructose and can contribute to depression and other illnesses.

Speaking of ingredient lists, the Food and Drug Administration has no recommended daily allowances for sugars, and encourages consumers to choose foods in which sugar is not one of the first few ingredients listed. Read nutrition labels and learn to recognize sugar in all its guises. Include protein at breakfast to help start your day with balanced blood sugar.

Amber L. Taylor, MD, reviewed this article.




Ilardi, Stephen, Ph.D. "How to Beat Depression Without Drugs." Psychology Today. Web. 23 July 2009.

Mercola, Joseph, MD., "The Links Between Sugar and Mental Health." Web. 22 December 2009. "Depression." Web.

Appleton, Nancy. "141 Reasons Sugar Ruins Your Health (Just Kidding, it's 143)." Web.

Hyman, Mark, MD. "How to Eliminate PMS in 5 Simple Steps." Blog. Web. 17 September 2010.

Hyman, Mark, MD. "Hidden Sugars and How To Increase Your Awareness Of Them Before They Sabotage Your Efforts!" Blog. Web. 17 March 2013.

Food and Drug Administration. "How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label." Web. 2 March 2013.