G is for Glucose

I have a sweet tooth….a mouth full of them in fact! I eat pretty healthy….protein, complex carbs, lots of vegetables…but it’s the dessert. I can’t say no. Especially when it is cake. I’m not kidding when I call myself a cake addict in my tagline. Cake is my reward for completing a goal and it is my comfort when I am not feeling well (physically or mentally). Everyone teases me. My Dad even threatens to stick a bumper sticker on my car, “I brake for cake!”.

I love cake

There have been a lot of articles recently about the food-mood connection, how blood sugar and brain chemistry are related. To my dismay, sugar is bad for you. I’m not talking about all sugar. Your body does, after all, need some sugar (glucose, specifically) to function properly. Think back to high school biology, cell respiration…remember that? It all starts with glucose. Like any good thing however, too much is bad. Dessert has a lot of sugar and your body breaks it down into glucose quickly. Sugar rush!! It’s not just dessert though. Everyday foods like rice, bread, soda or fruit juice can put you over the top too.

People with low levels of serotonin (like those with depression) crave sugar. Too much sugar exacerbates mental health problems. Yes, another another endless cycle that those with mental illness have to fight. It’s not fair is it? At least now I know why I’ve always been a sugar addict.

Carbohydrate cravings have been linked to lower serotonin levels. Ingesting sugar releases insulin from the pancreas. Insulin alters the ratios of amino acids in the body causing there to be more tryptophan available and less of other amino acids. This means there is less competition for tryptophan to cross the blood-brain-barrier. In the brain, tryptophan can be converted into serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter that is often low in those with depression. This explains why I reach for cake as soon as I start feeling down. The relief is only temporary though. Eventually things return to normal and less tryptophan is available to be converted to serotonin. This, of course, starts the whole sugar craving all over again. Keep in mind, this is just a fragment of a hugely complex picture.

Sugar has the potential to be addicting too. The more you eat it, the more you crave it. Sugar floods the brain with another feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. Studies have show that sugar activates the same areas of the brain as cocaine and we all know how addictive cocaine is known to be.

There are 3 potential mechanisms through which too much sugar can be a burden on mental health.

  • Insulin and leptin resistance. Insulin resistance can impair signaling between brain cells. You know that foggy feeling you get when you are feeling low. You can’t really concentrate and you’re having trouble remembering things….insulin resistance contributes to that. Leptin is released to tell the brain you are full, building up a resistance can lead to constant overeating which leads to weight gain. And that always makes us feel great about ourselves right?
  • Chronic inflammation. Sugar overload triggers a set of reactions that lead to a low level of chronic inflammation. This doesn’t cause problems right away, but in the long term, chronic inflammation contributes to things like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Macular Degeneration. Inflammation in the brain is also thought to exacerbate depression.
  • Less Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is necessary for healthy neurons. Sugar suppresses the production of BDNF. Studies comparing those with depression to those without have found that generally, people with depression have significantly lower levels of BDNF. Meaning, sugar just lowers it even more. Ugh!

So I guess sugar is my best friend and my worst enemy.

Sources:
Neurology
Diabetes Care
Food for the Brain

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25 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Snarky Momma With Love
    Apr 08, 2015 @ 22:08:07

    I want sugar…and carbs, too. Thanks for explaining the how and why.

    Reply

  2. Anxious Mom
    Apr 08, 2015 @ 22:24:18

    Very interesting post! I was now aware of the connection between sugar cravings and depression.

    Reply

  3. erraticprojectjunkie
    Apr 09, 2015 @ 01:39:57

    La la la…I can’t hear you! I am such a sugar lover. It’s ridiculous. Taking my sweets away would just be traumatic. Sadly though, this all makes perfect sense. Dangit. I hate it when reason wrecks my fun. Elle @ Erratic Project Junkie

    Reply

  4. trentpmcd
    Apr 09, 2015 @ 07:09:44

    I discovered a long time ago that my mood is often tied more into what’s happening in my stomach than what’s happening in the outside world….

    Reply

    • somberscribbler
      Apr 10, 2015 @ 09:50:41

      Lol. Are you one of those guys that gets “hangry”? My husband is! He gets angry when hungry. It is kind of funny now that we have figured out the connection

      Reply

      • trentpmcd
        Apr 10, 2015 @ 10:14:56

        Maybe not “angry”, just a little “ill-tempered” 😉 But it’s more than that. For example, if my stomach is a little queasy I get depressed. I used to think the cause an effect were the other way around until I found that if I “fixed” my stomach, I “fixed” my mind. Of course, sometimes it is the other way, like if I’m nervous my stomach is upset, but just as often if I fix the “stomach problem”, I fix the mood.

  5. Tizzy Brown
    Apr 09, 2015 @ 07:17:13

    I’ve got a terrible sweet tooth too, and my cravings for sugary carbs got worse when I gave up meat eight years ago. I try to eat more natural sugars when I can, like porridge sweetened with banana and cinnamon or honey instead of processed sugar. But chocolate is an irresistible temptation. Thanks for the information on the link between sugar cravings and depression-I wasn’t aware of that.

    Reply

  6. weebluebirdie
    Apr 09, 2015 @ 07:34:36

    I struggle with this one too. My issues are exacerbated by having PCOS which doesn’t help with my body managing glucose and fat. Then there is my self-destructive habit of not getting enough sleep, which also makes the cravings worse. I was doing better for a few weeks, at least on what I ate, and I did notice a difference. Of course, sustaining these changes is always the difficulty!

    Reply

    • somberscribbler
      Apr 10, 2015 @ 09:47:58

      It is hard to maintain changes! I know I feel better when I eat better too. I guess it’s hard to turn down the good taste and short term mood boost for the long term

      Reply

  7. Stephanie Faris
    Apr 09, 2015 @ 08:04:52

    I think I might be a sugar addict. Is there a 12-step program for it? I probably should just kick it altogether…but I would have a hard time getting rid of carbs in my diet.

    Stephanie
    http://stephie5741.blogspot.com

    Reply

    • somberscribbler
      Apr 10, 2015 @ 09:46:40

      I don’t know if I could kick dessert all together. Especially if someone else is having it! Carbs are ok when you are getting other nutrients or Dover out of it, but things like white bread and just extra sugar

      Reply

  8. helenalemon
    Apr 09, 2015 @ 17:27:24

    OK, you just scared me silly, again, about why I shouldn’t be craving the sweets and cakes. Don’t need any of the side-effects! Thanks!

    Reply

  9. isekhmet (a.k.a. Christine)
    Apr 09, 2015 @ 22:38:09

    Oh, I hadn’t seen this connection laid out so clearly before. Thank-you!

    I haven’t met a form of sugar that I haven’t liked and cake is a particular weakness of mine as well.

    Reply

  10. sangitak2
    Apr 11, 2015 @ 00:59:26

    Great post! Any thoughts about sugar substitutes or different sources like agave nectar?
    Just stopping by from A to Z blog hop! http://skaypisms.blogspot.com/

    Reply

    • somberscribbler
      Apr 14, 2015 @ 08:10:04

      There is so much debate over sugar substitutes these days. It’s hard to decide….pick your poison I guess. I try to avoid having too much of them. I’m not a fan of agave nectar. Most of the nutrition is fermented out while making it. It doesn’t cause a spike in blood glucose like other sweetners, which is a good thing, but it is really high in fructose. Fructose can only be digested by the liver. Too much fructose stresses the liver and it ends up being converted to fat.

      Reply

  11. pempispalace
    Apr 11, 2015 @ 05:12:34

    Lovely to catch up again through the A to Z Challenge – sometimes life gets in the way and we lose touch – I’d forgotten how inspiring and interesting your blog is Somber 🙂 So pleased to be re-connecting Special Teaching at Pempi’s Palace

    Reply

  12. amybovai
    Apr 12, 2015 @ 02:40:55

    Both my brother and my mother have type 2 diabetes. My brother is a big guy. My mother is quite small. She is 85. I really need to be careful that I don’t get it as well.
    Visiting from A to Z Blogging Challenge
    Amy http://amybovaird.com/i-is-for-itadakimasu/

    Reply

  13. Thru His vessel JB
    Apr 12, 2015 @ 06:53:16

    Wonderful blog. I have a bit of a sweet tooth myself but I have limited myself only to weekends to enjoy it. It makes me enjoy it even more since I do not have a cookie everyday.

    Reply

  14. livinwithgrace
    Apr 19, 2015 @ 21:59:36

    Interesting! I really like my sweets at times.

    Reply

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