Sugar has been linked to a broad range of health problems: from diabetes to obesity to inflammation to acne to an increased cancer risk. In Britain, adults consume approximately double, and in the U.S. triple, the recommended level of added sugar for additional health benefits (5% of energy intake), with sweet foods and drinks contributing three-quarters of the intake."
Now, findings from a study on sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression, have linked high sugar intake to common mental disorders such as depression. The observational study collected data from more than 23,000 people. The researchers analyzed the subjects' diets, asking them to fill out a questionnaire to assess their food intake frequency and mood.
The data showed that men in the top third of sugar intake had a 23% higher chance of common mental disorders within just five years. Worse, the risk of developing the disorders was independent of other factors. Diet, health behaviors, socioeconomic, demographic, adiposity (body fat percentage), and disease had little effect on the men's increased chance of developing common mental disorders (including depression) within five years.
Sugar May Act Like A Drug
One theory about the impact on mood is that sugar may act like a drug, like cocaine, giving you a high, and making you crave high sugar products, like junk food and sweet treats, over other foods.
You may be thinking, "Well, wouldn't depression, anxiety, and other common mental disorders play a role in sugar intake? After all, stress eating or comfort eating can lead to an increased consumption of sugar, right?"
As the study discovered, neither common mental disorders nor depression predicted the changes of sugar intake. Comfort or stress eating played no role in the subjects high sugar consumption, despite the fact that high sugar consumption led to the development of common mental disorders.
"We found an adverse effect of higher sugar intake on mental health cross-sectionally. Further, we found an increased likelihood of incident common mental disorders in men and some evidence of recurrent depression in both sexes with higher intakes of sugar from sweet food/beverages."
This research drives one important point home: high sugar intake is dangerous for your psychological health. The data proved that there is a direct connection between high sugar intake from sweet foods/beverages and mental/psychological health problems.
The researchers stated, "Over years and decades, it could be that those susceptible to depression tend to increase their sugar intake. With a high prevalence of mood disorders, and sugar intake commonly two to three times the level recommended, our findings indicate that policies promoting the reduction of sugar intake could additionally support primary and secondary prevention of depression."
Despite the researchers' findings, according to Dr. Anika Knuppel, there are still many questions that remain unanswered. For instance, whether sugar makes us sad, whether it affects men more than women, and whether it is sweetness, rather than sugar itself, that explains the observed associations. What is certain, though, is that sugar is associated with a number of health problems, including tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. So cutting down on sugar is probably a good idea, regardless of whether it causes mood disorders or not.
1. Anita Knuppel, Martin J. Shipley, Clare H. Llewellyn, Eric J. Brunner. "Sugar Intake From Sweet Food And Beverages, Common Mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study" Scientific Reports 7, Article: 62887, 2017. Doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05649-7