Do Sugars Cause Mental Illness?

July 20, 2011

Is reducing the amount of sugar consumed a key to reversing obesity and other negative health conditions?

Eat too much sugary foods and you’ll go “nuts” - that's the message according to a cross-cultural analysis published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, which found a strong correlation between refined sugar consumption and mental illness. Researchers found that a high intake of refined sugar and dairy predicted a higher incidence and worse outcomes of schizophrenia and depression. To the contrary, researchers also found that consumption whole grains, beans, and starchy root vegetables were linked to a lower prevalence of mental illnesses. This research and other similar studies are focusing on the fact that diet plays a big role in both our mental and physical health; i.e. the mind body connection.

Refined sugar consumption suppresses brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF, an important growth hormone in the brain - involved in creating new connections between neurons crucial for memory function. Low BDNF levels are associated with depression and schizophrenia and the consumption of refined sugar has the potential to exacerbate poor mental states by contributing to low BDNF levels.

Refined sugar is well known to cause an increased level of inflammation throughout the body. And chronic inflammation is associated with heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, some cancers and other ailments.

There are many foods on our supermarket shelves with “hidden sugars” so read labels and ingredient lists carefully and look out for “hidden sugars” - with names like high fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup, dextrose, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, brown rice syrup, to name just a few. There are also some foods that you wouldn’t think contained sugar like, oatmeal, granola, protein bars, iced tea, tomato sauce, sports drinks and more. It’s important to be vigilant about reading labels as you never know where sugar might pop up.