Blood Sugar Chaos: What Is It
Reactive hypoglycemia describes when your blood sugar crashes. It is more common in those who push through long hours without food, eat at irregular hours , are on a restrictive diet , have disordered eating cycles of starvation/binging, or whose diet is high in refined, processed carbs. Sound familiar? Given the nature of our food industry, this process affects Americans in epic proportions.
Insulin May Help Treat Depression
Researchers are so confident that depression can be linked to sugar intake that theyve studied using insulin to treat it. In one study, researchers found that people with both major depression and insulin resistance showed improvement in their depression symptoms when they were given medication to treat diabetes for 12 weeks. The effect was particularly strong in younger study participants.
More research is needed before doctors can begin prescribing insulin or other diabetes medication for people with depression. However, talk to your doctor about new research and alternative treatment options.
CDC , men also eat more calories from sugar in a day than women.
Read labels carefully to spot hidden sugar. Just because something is savory, like a sauce, or healthy, like yogurt, doesnt meant that there isnt any added sugar, either.
Common Causes Of Food Cravings
- Psychological or emotional stress
- Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications
- Hormone imbalances
- Physical and mental health conditions
Research has shown that cravings can also be driven by memories rather than bodily cues. Consistently having a certain food at a certain time creates a mental linkyou might say it almost feeds the craving.
For example, if you grab a snack from the vending machine at work at the same time each afternoon, your desire for the snack may be less about satisfying hunger and more out of habit.
Sweets and decadent meals are often associated with vivid memories of food at social gatherings, such as holidays, parties, and family get-togethers. If you find yourself thinking about your Grandmas molasses cookies or your moms famous apple pie, you may be missing your family members, not the food.
It might sound like cravings are all in your head, but that doesnt mean you’re imagining them. In fact, they’re most often based in biology.
In 2004, researchers used fMRI machines to look at people’s brains as they experienced food cravings. They noticed similarities in the neuroanatomy of food-craving brains and those of people who were addicted to drugs and alcohol .
In a 2011 study, researchers found that when one area of the brain was activated, it temporarily decreased food cravings, particularly for sweet foods and carbohydrates.
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The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
Foods with a high glycemic index like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or wheat cause blood sugar levels to spike.
Your body responds by making insulin which causes your blood sugar to drop.
Lowered blood sugar then causes your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.
This gets your liver to release stored sugar to bring your blood sugar level back to normal.
But these hormones, the same ones released when you are in fight-or-flight stress mode, also ramp up anxiety.
The Link Between Sugar And Depression: What You Should Know
Sugar is everywhere in the news, and most of the news isnt good. The latest comes from a long-term study suggesting that sugar may contribute to depression in men. The results add to a flood of findings linking sugar to a variety of both physical and mental health problems.
The study tracked the diets and medical conditions of 8,000 people over 22 years using surveys about diet and doctors visits completed every few years. By keeping tabs on what the participants ate and the sorts of conditions they were seeing doctors to treat, the researchers could analyze correlations between diet and health outcomes. The one that popped out is that men who consumed 67 grams or more of sugar per day were 23% more likely to be diagnosed with depression in a five-year period than men who ate 40 grams or less.
None of the participants were being treated for mental illnesses at the start of the study. The connection between sugar and depression appeared relatively quickly during the first five-year survey, and remained more or less steady throughout the study. The researchers report that the effect was independent of the men’s socioeconomic status, physical activity, drinking, smoking, other eating habits, body weight or physical health. The same correlation didn’t appear for women in the study, though it’s unclear why.
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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Dr Rameys Tips For Feeding Your Mental Health
As an enthusiastic eater and cook, Dr. Ramsey is brimming with ideas to help you eat more brain-healthy food. You might notice that these overlap with the guidelines for brain-healthy eating!
- Seafood is especially important for brain health, providing zinc, iron, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin B12. Choose seafood that is high in omega-3s yet low in mercury, such as mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, Rainbow trout, oysters, and shad.
- Leafy greens pack in vitamins K and C, folate, calcium, phytonutrients and fiber.
- Eating a wide variety of different colored plant foods provides a diet rich in flavonoids, phytonutrients known to be protective of oxidative stress in blood vessels and brain cells. These include berries, alliums , celery, parsley, cocoa, green tea, citrus fruits, soy beans, and fermented soy products like miso or tempeh.
- Meat eaters: choose meat from cows fed only grass for a more brain-friendly fat profile.
- Kefir is a fermented food plentiful in the type of microbes that may help you cultivate healthy bugs in the gut.
- Potatoes are full of potassium and great for the microbiota. Dr. Ramsey shared this brain health secret: eat smaller potatoes so you get more skin and less starch. If you cook and then cool them, you create whats called resistant starch. Youve created a potato that doesnt spike your blood sugar as much and gets down to the gut where it feeds the microbiota.
Gimme Some Of That Sugar Baby
If its bad for us, then why do we crave it in the first place? The simple answer is that sugar is a source of energy, and our body needs the energy to survive. The more elaborate answer is that sugar plays with our brains reward system. Both our preference for sweet treats and the degree to which our mood changes after sugar consumption is mediated by this same reward system.
Furthermore, to combat negative emotions such as stress, anxiety or sadness, we seek comforting, sugary foods as a coping mechanism. Unfortunately, the pleasure and energy we derive from sugary food is short-lived and does not provide us with sustainable, long-lasting effects. Regular consumption of these sugary treats can actually reduce the responsiveness of the brains reward system over time, leading us to consume greater amounts of sugar to get the same good feeling.
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Glucose The Brains Main Energy Source
Glucose is a simple sugar molecule thats a building block of mainly plant-based complex carbohydrates such as those found in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
It is essential to life.
It circulates in your blood and provides energy to all of your cells especially your brain cells which use a disproportionate amount of energy.
Since brain cells cant store energy, they need a steady supply of glucose.
While your liver can break down stored fat to produce ketones to feed the brain in a pinch, most brains run on glucose most of the time.
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Virtually every cell in the body can metabolize glucose for energy, but only liver cells can handle fructose.
Refined sugars like white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and even healthy sweeteners like honey and maple syrup are roughly half glucose and half fructose.
The fructose found in fruit and vegetables is easily handled by the body, but a diet high in added fructose from concentrated sweeteners raises blood fructose levels and this is a health disaster.
” Frequent consumption of fast food and commercial baked goods increase the risk of depression up to 38%.
Emerging Trends In Substance Misuse:
- MethamphetamineIn 2019, NSDUH data show that approximately 2 million people used methamphetamine in the past year. Approximately 1 million people had a methamphetamine use disorder, which was higher than the percentage in 2016, but similar to the percentages in 2015 and 2018. The National Institute on Drug Abuse Data shows that overdose death rates involving methamphetamine have quadrupled from 2011 to 2017. Frequent meth use is associated with mood disturbances, hallucinations, and paranoia.
- CocaineIn 2019, NSDUH data show an estimated 5.5 million people aged 12 or older were past users of cocaine, including about 778,000 users of crack. The CDC reports that overdose deaths involving have increased by one-third from 2016 to 2017. In the short term, cocaine use can result in increased blood pressure, restlessness, and irritability. In the long term, severe medical complications of cocaine use include heart attacks, seizures, and abdominal pain.
- KratomIn 2019, NSDUH data show that about 825,000 people had used Kratom in the past month. Kratom is a tropical plant that grows naturally in Southeast Asia with leaves that can have psychotropic effects by affecting opioid brain receptors. It is currently unregulated and has risk of abuse and dependence. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that health effects of Kratom can include nausea, itching, seizures, and hallucinations.
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If Imbalanced Blood Sugar Is An Issue You Might Have:
Major dips in energy during the day
Feel hungry all of the time
Need a steady stream of snacks to get through the day
Become shaky, lightheaded, or get headaches when you dont eat
Problems falling asleep or waking in the middle of the night
Have health conditions linked to insulin resistance, like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
This is why when I work with patients coming in for the above symptoms I consider if imbalanced blood sugar needs to be ruled out.
But first, lets look at how the body and brain responds to blood sugar crashes.
Get Active & Eat Well
If youre working on finding new activities to replace snacking or distract yourself from cravings, you may want to try using the opportunity to exercise. Regular physical activity stimulates feel-better endorphins, which can help improve your mood.
As youre tuning in to your body, you may also find that there are times when you think youre hungry, but youre actually dehydrated! When you first feel a craving, reach for your water bottle or fill up a glass of water first. You may find this was just what your body needed.
After youve rehydrated, check back in with your body. If youre still feeling hungry, the next step is to pause and think about what to eat. What youre hankering for at the moment may not be what your body really needs.
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If Youre Craving Sweets Heres What To Eat Instead
Just because youre ditching or limiting processed sugar doesnt mean you have to deny yourself the pleasure of sweet-tasting food.
In addition to being a doctor known as an expert on food and mood, Naidoo is also a chef and the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Brain on Food.
Here are a few of her favorite low- or no-sugar recipes.
Unstable Blood Sugar Levels
Whole foods such as fruits and vegetables include fiber, which slows their absorption and keeps blood sugar levels steady.
In contrast, processed foods, like candy, sugary drinks, and refined carbohydrates, have a high glycemic index your body absorbs them immediately and spikes your blood sugar levels.
A large study looked at the relationship between depression, dietary GI, and other carbohydrate measures in about 70,000 postmenopausal women in the United States. Women previously diagnosed with depression were excluded from the study.
The study found that women who consumed a high-glycemic diet, such as refined grains and added sugars , had greater rates of depression. In contrast, those who ate more fiber, milk products, fruits, and vegetables had lower odds of depression.
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Added Sugars And Insulin Resistance
Insulin is a hormone that allows glucose to enter our cells for conversion into energy. Think of it as the key to the locks or receptors of these cells. Insulin resistance occurs when the cells receptors become less sensitive to insulin and dont open as quickly. As a result, the cells are deprived of the fuel they need to produce energy.
The brain is full of insulin receptors which control its use of glucose for energy. Emerging evidence shows that depression can arise from the brains insulin resistance and the resulting disruption of energy supply.
Excessive refined sugar consumption has been linked with the development of insulin resistance7. Oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which are connected to the development of depression8,9, also play a role in the development of insulin resistance. When the flow of insulin is disrupted as a result, its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties are compromised, making inflammation and oxidative stress, and thus depression, worse.
Blood Glucose Levels And Mood
High sugar consumption causes sudden peaks and troughs in a persons blood glucose levels. Something as seemingly benign as a bottle of soft drink can cause a blood sugar spike leading to a sugar crash.
Persistent and repeated sugar spikes and slumps can cause irritability, insomnia, fatigue, profuse sweating and excessive thirst. In addition, sugar slumps will add to the difficulty of focusing on a given task as well as poor memory. To overcome this, those affected often treat the problem with another sugar hit.
A high intake of sugar elevates the levels of blood insulin which in turn will also raise the levels of endorphins in the system. This is why we have a feel-good response in the short-term. Again, like most things that affect our emotional stability, resistance becomes an issue. This means it takes increasingly more sugar to achieve the same effects, while the increasing amounts do more and more damage.
Our brain works constantly to maintain homeostasis in our entire system. If anything spikes or affects the balance, it acts to restore normality. Chronic sugar consumption can cause some of the brains endorphin sites to close in order to control the amount of endorphins that are released. Again, this means that between sugar hits endorphin output can be restricted when it is most needed. Unfortunately, reduced levels of endorphins have a causal effect on anxiety and mild to severe depression.
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Practice Mindfulness & Moderation
Similar to how your mind might think youre hungry when youre actually thirsty, the meaning of a particular craving may be more complex than it seems. This is where practicing mindfulness can be helpful.
Sugar cravings are amplified and most intense when youre hungry. If you go too long without a meal or a snack, your body is likely to start looking for a quick source of energy. While this might address your hunger now, you arent likely to stay feeling satisfied until your next meal.
Sugar and fat stimulate hunger, making it more likely youll end up eating beyond the need to satisfy your craving if you reach for these foods.
When youre truly hungry, choose nutritious foods that will address your hunger and provide your body with the energy it needs. If you still want dessert after a balanced meal, have a little. But if youve had something filling and satisfying to eat, you may find that you no longer want the dessert.
Avoid completely depriving yourself and dont beat yourself up if you give in to a craving. Focus on looking for healthier substitutes instead. For example, choose a small serving of dark chocolate avocado mousse instead of a chocolate bar. Or allow yourself the dessert you really wantbut only have one small portion.
Mindful eating helps you plan meals and snacks intentionally, rather than mindlessly grazing all day. You may find it useful to keep a food journal, meal diary, or use an app to help you track.
Trying To Explain The Link
We are still not sure what causes depression, but some researchers believe that biological changes are at the root of it. Some of these changes could be influenced by sugar and sweet taste. For example, a study in rats found that diets high in sugar and fat can reduce a protein called BDNF that influences the growth and development of nerve cells in the brain. This protein is thought to be involved in the development of depression and anxiety.
Another possible biological cause is inflammation. High sugar diets can increase inflammation a protective reaction of the body, normally directed against microorganisms or foreign substances. While common signs of inflammation, such as redness, are far from a mood disorder, the symptoms that keep us in bed with a cold are much closer, such as low energy and being unable to concentrate. Ongoing research suggests that mood disorders could be linked with inflammation, at least in some cases.
Dopamine is another possible culprit. A study using rats earned headlines for suggesting sweet foods could be as addictive as cocaine. This might be due to affects on dopamine, a brain chemical involved in the reward system. Dopamine is also thought to influence mood. And addiction is itself associated with a higher risk of developing a mood disorder.
Finally, sugar intake could be associated with other factors, such as obesity, which itself is related to mood.
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