Even though sugar is often vilified, the fact is your body needs some sugar. Every cell in your body depends on glucose (a type of sugar) for energy. And your brain, for example, banks on glucose to help it function properly. If your brain doesn’t get enough glucose fuel, there’s a communications misfire. Messages aren’t properly sent or received by your brain and those functions we often take for granted—like cognition, memory, and even basic thinking—are negatively impacted.

Remember, too, that your brain controls your mood. Feeling anxious, irritable, depressed? Turns out those brain-centered feelings might be related to your blood glucose levels.

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Too much or too little sugar may just be the monkey wrench that throws your mood all out of whack. So, let’s explore that and look at ways that you can work to keep your blood glucose levels stable and consistent, and hopefully avoid blood sugar mood swings.

 

Blood Sugar and Mood Disorders—What are the Signs?

When people think of sugar-related issues, the problems with too much sugar might be the first thing that comes to mind. And with good reason. Hyperglycemia (that’s the term for high blood glucose) can lead to extremely harmful effects (e.g., blurry vision, fatigue, and rapid heartbeat).

At the same time, hypoglycemia (otherwise known as low blood glucose) can also create a patchwork of problems, some no less severe than hyperglycemia.

And whether it’s the highs or the lows of blood glucose levels, it’s also the fluctuations between the two—especially for those with diabetes—that are associated with mood swings and an overabundance of negative emotional impact.

It may be easier to associate the mood shifts with those who have diabetes, as that condition impairs the body’s ability to metabolize glucose, thus likely making blood sugar mood shifts more pronounced and more frequent. So, let’s start there.

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In talking about high blood sugar levels in those with diabetes, this article says that those mood shifts may be more subtle than those changes attributed to low blood sugar symptoms. For example, if your blood sugar is too high, you might feel:

  • just all around lousy, or under the weather, as the saying goes
  • kind of blah, not excited to get with your daily activities
  • cranky, irritable or downright angry
  • tired (physically, mentally, emotionally)
  • depressed—well who wouldn’t be—diabetes is a lot to handle

And if you have diabetes and low blood sugar, that same article says that mood swing signs can be scary and include:

  • panic
  • overwhelming anxiety
  • sadness
  • frustration
  • feeling like you’re drunk

This piece writes specifically about the impact of low blood glucose levels on diabetes related to anger and abuse, or what’s sometimes referred to as “diabetic rage.”

You can see why those with diabetes are often advised to finger prick test to keep track of where their blood glucose levels are throughout the day so they can work to manage the fluctuations and the extremes.

 

Can Blood Sugar Affect Mental Health?

There appears to be a scientifically-based association between consuming sugar and mood or other brain disorders—that in addition to what your body tells you. More research is warranted to figure out whether high or low blood glucose levels are causally linked to those associations, and if so, how and why.

But in the meantime, here is some of what we can share.

First of all, the actual cause of diabetes is still unknown. It doesn’t appear that high sugar consumption is the cause, but, follow us. We know that consuming a lot of simple carbs and sugary-laden foods (cakes, for one) and drinks can lead to excess weight. Taking it one step further, being overweight or obese are among the high-risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. So, too much sugar isn’t going to help you here.

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We also know that people with diabetes can best manage that disease through a number of factors, including managing their blood glucose levels. This article details how blood sugar level fluctuations can lead to mood ups and downs. Those blood sugar mood changes can create relationship tensions, which can double down on mood conditions like sadness, anxiety, worry, depression and more.

Managing diabetes in itself is a mood stressor. There’s so many factors and complications to worry about.

 

What Does the Science Say?

This article explains that variable blood sugar levels could be the culprit for several mood disorders, including depression and anxiety. Citing research that the author suggests shows a relationship between mood and blood sugar highs and lows, she further explains that poor glycemic control can be linked to irritability, anxiety and worry.

Approximately 25% of people with diabetes also suffer from depression. And this study in a small population of women with the disease associated women who experienced inconsistent blood sugar levels with a lower quality of life and negative moods.

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It is not just those with diabetes for whom high sugar intake can lead to psychological and mood disorders, citing a 2017 prospective study with findings that the researchers said are “consistent with the hypothesis that high sugar intake plays a causal role in the risks of both incident and recurrent depression and common mental disorders.” Further, the study linked sugar consumption from sweet foods and beverages to an adverse impact on long-term psychological health.

This article connects several mood disorders to sugar through systemic inflammation. The piece explains that increased inflammation occurs in conditions such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and anxiety. The post then shares a systematic review and meta-analysis that includes several studies that associated chronic inflammation with added sugar.

The above article from Medical News Today looked at other studies too, including this one that found that increased systemic inflammation can trigger depression.

These studies are not the last word in the conversation on sugar consumption, glycemic control and mood disorders. Many of the scientific researchers would like to see research that replicates and builds on their studies, so that stronger conclusions can be shared on these topics.

 

Does Cutting Out Sugar Improve Mood?

That’s up for discussion.

This article lays out some of the potential issues associated with pulling sugar out of your diet. For instance, in the beginning, breaking away from sugar may lead to headaches, irritability, anxiety, brain fog and fatigue. Although scientists are not in agreement on whether sugar is or isn’t addictive, this study showed preliminary evidence of withdrawal symptoms and cravings for sugar sweetened beverages in a diverse population of overweight and obese adolescents.

But remember this. Your body and your brain need some sugar. The key to reducing mood-related problems with sugar consumption may rest on these factors:

Reduce, don’t totally eliminate, your sugar consumption. Make simple changes to your diet, slowly but consistently, so the new habits will stick. For example, if you’re having soda twice a day, start by cutting it down to once a day. Once you’re comfortable with that, cut your sodas to three times a week. Healthier beverage options are water or herbal teas, maybe even coffee.

Speaking of coffee, if you take it with three sugars, start by using only two sugars, then one, and so on and so on. (Sugar alternatives or replacements would be a whole separate blog!)

Find more tips, here and here, for examples. 

Focus your consumption on healthier carbohydrates. Sugars are a type of carbohydrates. Natural sugars and complex carbohydrates are generally healthier for you than simple carbohydrates/sugar or refined grains or processed foods. Think fruits, not fruit pies. Think water, not soda. Think whole grain bread, not white bread. Read more here.

The glycemic index (GI) is a tool used to help people (especially those with diabetes or prediabetes) figure out which foods would likely cause their blood glucose levels to rise more quickly. Foods are assigned a ranking from 0 – 100, with the higher-ranked foods generally full of carbohydrates and known to cause a rapid rise in blood sugar because of how quickly they are absorbed and digested.

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At the other end of the scale, foods assigned a low GI are those that are digested and absorbed at a slower rate, and, as you would expect, therefore result in a slower rise in blood sugar levels.

This website shares a chart that details some of the GI rankings. (The glycemic load is another tool.)

Eat regularly to avoid low blood sugar. As this article explains, in general, eating can raise your blood glucose levels; however, if you go too long without eating, the result can be low blood sugar. Along those lines, if you don’t have enough carbohydrates in your body, you may also be victim to low blood sugar.

Manage your diabetes. If you have diabetes, there is no cure. But you can reduce some of the problems by managing the condition. Strive for a healthy weight. Watch what you eat and when you eat. (Try to balance your meals and snacks. For example, when eating carbs, add some protein to slow down digestion and absorption to keep your blood sugars steady.)

Here are some other lifestyle activities that can help: talk therapy (individual and/or support groups), relaxation techniques (massage, meditation), physical exercise (yoga, Pilates, cardio workouts). Reward yourself on good days—with something other than food. It’s okay to have a treat now and then, but probably best if food indulgence isn’t your main go-to pleasure).

Know your numbers.  For those who have diabetes, doctors may recommend strict blood glucose level management, especially for those on insulin, to avoid the sugar highs and lows and better understand how your diabetes is impacted by what and when you eat. You might also talk with your doctor about a continuous glucose monitor.

Glucose fasting tests and A1c tests are also important in diabetes management. The A1c measures and helps you gain insight into your body’s ability to metabolize glucose over a longer (about three months) time frame.

A1c tests are also important for those with pre-diabetes and also should be considered for those with family history, or other risk factors for the disease. Or even if you just want a baseline to understand and know that you are on the right track for not developing diabetes or as a heads up to make dietary and other lifestyle changes if you are not.

Talk with your doctor about what tests you need to understand where your numbers reside and what they mean. At-home tests are also available, and OmegaQuant offers its own Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test to measure the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood. A healthy HbA1c is below 5.7% and above 5.7% indicates chronic elevated glucose and warrants a discussion with a healthcare practitioner. Find out more information here.

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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This test is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent or mitigate any disease. This site does not offer medical advice, and nothing contained herein is intended to establish a doctor/patient relationship. OmegaQuant, LLC is regulated under the Clinical Laboratory improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) and is qualified to perform high complexity clinical testing. The performance characteristics of this test were determined by OmegaQuant, LLC. It has not been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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