3 Ways Sugar Impacts Mental Health

Do you have a sweet tooth?
Is dessert just too hard to resist?
Are you a self-proclaimed chocoholic?

Most of us know that excess calories, especially empty calories from sugar, can create extra weight on our bodies, but research shows that sugar consumption also takes a toll on our mental health. Reducing sugar intake can help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and chronic inflammation while getting you leaner, but the impact on our mental health can be just as significant if not more.

Here are 3 Ways Sugar Impacts Mental Health:

1) Depression:

Eating sugar can cause an initial high followed by the inevitable crash leading to intense cravings to consume more and more sugar which perpetuates a vicious cycle that’s hard to stop. This behavior can create extreme mood swings due to an over-activated reward system in the brain caused by the release of the feel-good hormone, dopamine.1

Studies show that sugar can also increase feelings of depression and the potential for schizophrenia in people low in a growth hormone called BDNF. The hormone deficiency is found in people with depression and schizophrenia and thus consuming sugar only makes the symptoms more pronounced.2

2) Anxiety:

People who suffer from anxiety typically experience worry, panic, and acute alertness. Sugar intensifies these symptoms by causing a surge of adrenaline leading to hyperactivity and a hyper-reactive response to stress. Research has shown that sugar can exaggerate the fear of negative outcomes commonly associated with anxiety. Also, because eating sweets can cause fatigue, blurry vision and fuzzy thinking, viewing situations objectively and make confident choices can be more difficult when we consume a high sugar diet.

3) Learning and Memory:

Eating sugar can contribute to the deterioration of the brain’s ability to process and retain information as it causes chronic inflammation. Researchers once thought that inflammation was a factor that can cause depression. Now, studies are showing that depression and stress can increase inflammation. Regardless, this inflammation has been associated with a decrease in cognitive abilities leading to signs of aging like forgetfulness and confusion.

A UCLA study in 2012, showed that insulin resistance caused by consuming a high sugar diet damages brain cells dedicated to learning and memory in rats, while foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids protect these synapses.3 Also, unstable blood sugar levels can create excessive insulin releases making the brain secrete glutamate, a neurotransmitter which sends signals between nerve cells that is necessary for learning and memory, but in excess can cause agitation, depression and anxiety.

Often, when we are sad, stressed or overwhelmed, we reach for sugar as it stimulates the release of dopamine and adrenaline. Besides the pleasurable taste, the rush and the high of sugar gives merely temporary relief but with serious long-term mental health ramifications.


AbleTo has helped thousands of people overcome depression, anxiety, and feelings of overwhelm with a simple 8-week program. Our therapy and coaching sessions help people get back on their feet, reducing mental health symptoms by 50%.4 Program graduates report feeling more relaxed and optimistic about the future. And, we make it easy and convenient. All sessions are available from the comfort, privacy and convenience of your own home at the time, day or night, that works best for your schedule. Through phone or video chat, we connect you with our Care Team so that you can get the support to help you feel better.

Are you ready to start feeling good again?
Get started with AbleTo today.

If you feel your depression is severe or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, consult a doctor immediately or seek help at the closest emergency room. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

  4. Baseline Final N =1,023 P < 0.0001 AbleTo graduates between 1/1/14 – 6/30/15 with elevated baseline depression, anxiety, and stress scores defined as: D>9, A>7, S>14 using DASS-21 scale.