Skip to content

Sugar and Depression, Finding The Connection

Your health may suffer long-term effects from the food you consume. Particularly, consuming an excessive amount of sugar may make you more susceptible to mood problems, such as depression. Keep reading to learn more about the connection between sugar and depression.


Does Sugar Cause Depression?

There are various ways that food can affect your emotions and attitude. Hunger and the desire for food might make you moody, irritated, or even angry. After a delicious dinner, you could feel satisfied and joyful.

Your health may suffer long-term effects from the food you consume. Mainly, consuming an excessive amount of sugar may make you more susceptible to mood problems, such as depression.

Complex carbs like those found in fruits, vegetables, and grains naturally contain sugar. Additionally, it can be found in straightforward, refined foods like spaghetti, cakes, baked goods, bread, soda, and candies. The average American diet contains far too few complex carbs made from healthier sources and relies primarily on these quickly absorbed carbohydrates.

Consuming excessive amounts of simple sugars may increase your chance of developing depression, mood disorders, and other long-term health problems. Continue reading to discover how sugar and sadness are related. Get advice on controlling your sweet tooth as well.

Facts About Sugar and Depression

Dietary Influence on Depression

Researchers in London found a correlation between diet and depression, indicating that diets rich in processed foods increase the risk of depression compared to diets with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and fish. Prioritizing whole foods could shield against depression, suggesting a broader scope of benefits from a plant-focused diet.

Sugar is More Addictive Than Cocaine

A study in rats revealed the brain’s sensitivity to sugar, indicating its addictive potential, surpassing the pleasurable effects of cocaine. Curbing sugar addiction requires diligence in identifying and gradually reducing sugar consumption hidden in various food items.

Sugar, Inflammation, and Depression

Diet’s impact on inflammation is evident, with high-refined carb diets exacerbating inflammation. Chronic inflammation, associated with various health concerns, including metabolic disorders, cancer, and asthma, is linked to depression. Recognizing symptoms common to both inflammation and depression is crucial for early detection and intervention.

Insulin’s Role in Depression Treatment

Exploring the link between sugar intake and depression, researchers investigated insulin’s potential in treating depression, noting improvements in individuals with depression and insulin resistance. Despite promising results, further research is imperative before considering insulin as a depression treatment.

Gender Disparities in Sugar’s Effects

Men consuming higher sugar quantities faced increased depression risks compared to women, highlighting gender-specific impacts. Monitoring sugar intake is vital, given the prevalent sugar overload in daily diets, especially sugary beverages.

Carb Quality and Depression Risk

Research suggests that the quality, rather than the quantity, of carbohydrates affects depression risks. Foods with high glycemic index scores, primarily simple carbs rich in sugars, elevate depression risks, emphasizing the importance of carb quality over quantity.

Commercial Baked Goods and Depression

Consumption of commercially prepared baked goods was associated with heightened depression risks. Spanish researchers highlighted the potential role of trans fats in these goods in promoting inflammation and elevating the risk of cardiovascular diseases, urging vigilance in avoiding such unhealthy fats.

Dietary Choices and Mental Well-being

Being mindful of food choices, favoring whole, unprocessed foods, and scrutinizing labels for hidden sugars and unhealthy fats are crucial steps toward reducing depression risks linked to dietary habits.

What is Depression?

Depression is a complex and multifaceted mental health condition characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in activities. It is more than just experiencing occasional sadness; it’s a pervasive and prolonged state that significantly impacts daily life, affecting emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Individuals with depression may find it challenging to perform daily tasks, maintain relationships, or function optimally in various aspects of life.

Depression can manifest differently in different people and can range from mild to severe. Some common symptoms include:

  1. Persistent Sadness: A prevailing feeling of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness that persists for weeks, months, or longer.
  2. Loss of Interest: A lack of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable or engaging, leading to social withdrawal.
  3. Changes in Sleep Patterns: Insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness) are common symptoms of depression.
  4. Fatigue and Low Energy: Feeling tired, exhausted, or lacking energy after rest or sleep.
  5. Changes in Appetite or Weight: Significant changes in appetite or weight, leading to unintentional weight loss or gain.
  6. Difficulty Concentrating: Difficulty focusing, making decisions, or experiencing memory problems.
  7. Feelings of Guilt or Worthlessness: Persistent feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or self-blame, often without an apparent reason.
  8. Suicidal Thoughts: In severe cases, depression can lead to recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

Depression is believed to result from a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Imbalances in neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain), such as serotonin and norepinephrine, are often associated with depression. Stressful life events, trauma, chronic illness, hormonal changes, and certain medications can also contribute to its development.

Get Help. Get Better. Get Your Life Back.

Searching for Accredited Dual Diagnosis Mental Health Centers Near You?

Even if therapy failed previously, or are in the middle of a difficult crisis, we stand ready to support you. Our trusted behavioral health specialists will not give up on you. When you feel ready or just want someone to speak to about counseling alternatives to change your life call us. Even if we cannot assist you, we will lead you to wherever you can get support. There is no obligation. Call our hotline today.

FREE 24/7 Dual Diagnosis Mental Health Services Hotline
Sugar consumption can heighten the risk of depression for several reasons. It disrupts insulin and blood sugar balance and depletes vital B vitamins, affecting mood regulation.
Sugar consumption can heighten the risk of depression for several reasons. It disrupts insulin and blood sugar balance and depletes vital B vitamins, affecting mood regulation.

Tips to Reduce Sugar Intake

Limiting added sugars is crucial for a healthy diet. To help cut back on sugar consumption and improve overall health, consider these strategies:

  1. Opt for water over sugary drinks like soda to quench your thirst.
  2. Gradually reduce sugar added to foods like pancakes, cereal, tea, and coffee, starting with smaller amounts and decreasing over time.
  3. Add fresh or dried fruits (cherries, bananas, raisins) to cereal instead of sugar.
  4. Cut down on non-nutritive sweeteners in your diet.
  5. Choose fruits for natural sugars and favor those canned in water or natural juice rather than syrup.
  6. Experiment with extracts (orange, almond, vanilla) as sugar substitutes in recipes.
  7. Select products with lower sugar content when shopping by carefully examining ingredient lists.
  8. Use less sugar than recommended in baking recipes without compromising taste.
  9. Enhance flavors in dishes by replacing sugar with spices.

Following these tips can help you gradually reduce your sugar intake while maintaining the taste and enjoyment of your meals.

Why Does Sugar Cause Depression?


The risk of depression can be heightened by sugar consumption due to various reasons. While added sugar can disrupt insulin and blood sugar balance, it also depletes essential B vitamins for maintaining a positive mood. This can impact the thyroid, responsible for regulating body temperature, metabolism, and growth, potentially influencing an individual’s overall mindset.

Sugar comprises two types: simple sugar and added sugar. The former is found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and beans, containing essential nutrients like vitamins, proteins, and fiber. These foods aid in slowing sugar absorption, offering a healthier option. On the other hand, added or processed sugar lacks nutritional value and is commonly present in items like candy bars and soft drinks. This type of sugar is rapidly absorbed into the system, having adverse effects.

Studies suggest a link between high sugar intake and symptoms of depression. Glucose, or blood sugar, is crucial in supplying energy to the body’s cells, including the brain, affecting its balance. Overconsumption of added sugar often leads to fluctuations in energy levels, increased irritability, and a subsequent drop in blood glucose levels, affecting the mind and body significantly.

Furthermore, some individuals can develop addictive behaviors toward sugar due to its interaction with the mesolimbic dopamine system in the brain. The initial sugar intake may evoke positive feelings by increasing mood through dopamine. However, excessive consumption of added sugars induces chemical changes in the body, leading to potential cravings for more sugar to achieve similar mood highs.

The association between diabetes and depression exemplifies the impact of glucose on depression symptoms. People with diabetes are more prone to experiencing symptoms of depression, given the need for careful food choices to maintain stable sugar levels and consistent energy release.

Another significant link between sugar and depression is systemic inflammation. Studies have highlighted that increased systemic inflammation triggered by added dietary sugars can contribute to depression. Elevated inflammation is known to cause other depressive symptoms like altered appetite, sleep disturbances, and fatigue. This inflammation can also affect the brain’s reward system, potentially influencing emotional stress leading to brain inflammation associated with depression and other psychiatric conditions.

Ryan Zofay forming a circle and hugging friends.

End the Emotional Pain. Get Your Life Back.

Feeling Depressed, Anxious or Struggling with Mental Health Illness? Get Safe Comfortable Mental Health Dual Diagnosis High-Quality Therapy From Counselors That Care. Begin Your Recovery Now.

Hotline (855) 940-6125

How Addictive is Sugar?

The solution might seem straightforward—reduce or remove sugar intake to decrease depression. Yet, this task is far from easy. The more sugar consumed, the stronger the desire for it creates an unfair cycle.

Research on addiction demonstrates that specific brain regions exhibit activation when exposed to addictive substances like cocaine. Similarly, sugar consumption triggers analogous brain activity, implying its addictive nature, similar to highly processed substances.

The ingestion of sugar leads to surges in serotonin and dopamine levels, creating a temporary “high.” Following this surge, the body craves more sugar to replicate the pleasurable feeling.

Individuals with depression often experience sugar cravings as their brains try to adapt by heightening sensitivity to this addictive substance. This cycle fosters sugar dependency, resulting in an ongoing quest for increased sugar intake to reproduce previous effects, potentially leading to weight gain and various health complications.

Inflammation, Gut Health, and Emotional Well-being


Inflammation, Gut Health, and Emotional Well-being Refined sugar’s impact extends beyond its association with inflammation, a factor strongly linked to mental health outcomes, as revealed by research findings. This connection is based on various mechanisms.

The intake of refined sugar may provoke inflammation, leading not only to physical health risks like obesity but also to adverse effects on mood. This link between refined sugar and depression arises from the inflammatory response triggered in specific individuals.

Moreover, inflammation, spurred by sugar consumption, increases the production of stress hormones such as cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels, apart from their association with depression, have the potential to worsen existing mental health conditions, including anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Interestingly, our gut health seems crucial in regulating emotions. Evidence suggests that individuals with a well-maintained gut microbiome experience fewer symptoms of depression. The disruption caused by sugar to gut bacteria subsequently affects mood.

Additionally, sugar’s interference with nutrient absorption poses another aspect. A high-sugar diet may hinder the absorption of essential nutrients crucial for brain health, such as vitamin B (B6, B12, and folic acid) and vitamin D.

These nutrients play a crucial role in protecting against neurologic and psychiatric disorders. Therefore, any deficiency caused by sugar-induced hindrances in absorption presents another pathway through which sugar might contribute to the onset or development of depression.

First-class Facilities & Amenities

World-class High-Quality Mental Health Services & Behaviroal Health Substance Abuse Treatment

Rehab Centers Tour

Renowned Mental Health Centers. Serene Private Facilities. Inpatient Rehab Programs Vary.

Mental Health Helpline (855) 940-6125

Proven recovery success experience, backed by a Team w/ History of:

  • 15+ Years Experience
  • 100s of 5-Star Reviews
  • 10K+ Recovery Successes
  • Low Patient to Therapist Ratio
  • Comprehensive Dual-Diagnosis Treatment
  • Complimentary Family & Alumni Programs
  • Coaching, Recovery & Development Events
  • Comfortable Onsite Medical Detox Center

Can Low Blood Sugar Cause Depression?

Low blood sugar and depression: Diets that are strong in added sugars and with a high glycemic impact (meaning they are known to spike blood sugar) have been demonstrated to increase the risk of depression in extensive community studies involving nearly 70,000 women.

Depression low blood sugar: In a different study, participants who consumed diets high in carbs (60%) and low in carbohydrates (40%) had considerably lower scores on measures of sad mood than those who consumed diets high in carbohydrates (40%) and low in carbohydrates (0%).

Low blood sugar depression: According to research, there are at least five possible connections between blood sugar and depression: insulin resistance in the brain, decreased brain cell growth with high blood sugar, suboptimal “wiring” of brain cells in insulin-resistant states, insulin’s stimulation of chronic stress hormones, and the impact of insulin on inflammation.

Can Depression Cause Sugar Cravings?

When you’re feeling down or depressed, it’s common to seek foods heavy in carbohydrates, sugar, or sweets like candy and chocolate. These sugar cravings may be your body’s way of alerting you to a deficiency in your required vitamin or mineral.

Consuming excessive amounts of simple sugars may increase your chance of developing depression, mood disorders, and other long-term health problems.
Consuming excessive amounts of simple sugars may increase your chance of developing depression, mood disorders, and other long-term health problems.

World-class, Accredited, 5-Star Reviewed, Effective Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Programs. Complete Integrated Inpatient Rehab with Free Post Discharge Therapy Planning.

CALL (855) 940-6125

End the Emotional Pain Rollercoaster. Gain Stability & Happiness Through Recovery Treatment. Start Mental Health Counseling Today. Get Free No-obligation Guidance by Behaviroal Health Specialists Who Understand Mental Health Recovery.

We Level Up Dual Diagnosis Treatment

The exact definition of dual diagnosis (also referred to as co-occurring disorders) can differ between institutions.  However, it is generally described as the specific treatment of someone who has been diagnosed with a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder at the same time. Treating dual-diagnosis clients is a critical aspect of our inpatient treatment experience because co-occurring disorders are strongly correlated with instances of substance abuse.

Creating a treatment plan that addresses the physical aspects of withdrawal, the psychological connection with drug use, and managing underlying mental health disorders is part of setting clients up for success.  A thorough mental health analysis identifies possibilities for treatment.  Meeting with mental health counselors and medical care providers means access to behavioral therapy and medication treatment. At our dual diagnosis treatment center, We Level Up can implement the highest quality of care. 

We recognize the fragile complexities of how mental and substance abuse disorders can influence others and sometimes result in a vicious cycle of addiction.  That’s why we offer specialized treatment in dual-diagnosis cases to provide the most excellent chance of true healing and long-lasting recovery.

It can be challenging to accept that you may be living with a mental illness, but once it is properly diagnosed and treated, treating the presenting case of substance abuse can be magnitudes easier. Only a properly trained medical professional can diagnose these underlying conditions.  If you believe you are suffering from a disorder alongside addiction, we urge you to seek a qualified treatment center to begin your journey to recovery. Call We Level Up today.

Experience Transformative Recovery at the We Level Up Treatment Center.

See our authentic success stories. Get inspired. Get the help you deserve.

We Level Up Treatment Centers for Drug Alcohol Rehab Detox Behavioral Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Therapy We Level Up Treatment Centers for Drug Alcohol Rehab Detox Behavioral Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Therapy We Level Up Treatment Centers for Drug Alcohol Rehab Detox Behavioral Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Therapy
Hotline (855) 940-6125
Voluntarily testimonials from the We Level Up Treatment Center network vary. Not intended as a guaranteed treatment or outcome as each person's journey is unique.

Start a New Life

Begin with a free call to a behavioral health treatment advisor. Learn more about our dual-diagnosis programs. The We Level Up treatment center network delivers recovery programs that vary by each treatment facility. Call to learn more.

  • Personalized Care
  • Caring Accountable Staff
  • World-class Amenities
  • Licensed & Accredited
  • Renowned w/ 5-Star Reviews

We’ll Call You


Clinical Depression Symptoms

YouTube video
Search We Level Up FL Sugar and Depression, Finding The Connection Resources
Sources
  1. Added sugar to the diet. (n.d.).
    https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/added-sugar-in-the-diet/ Sugar and Depression, does sugar cause depression, can sugar cause depression, low blood sugar depression, sugar depression – Related Articles
  2. Added sugars. (2018).
    https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars Sugar and Depression, does sugar cause depression, can sugar cause depression, low blood sugar depression, sugar depression – Related Articles
  3. Della Corte, K. W., et al. (2018). Effect of dietary sugar intake on biomarker rs of subclinical inflammation: A systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention studies.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5986486/ Sugar and Depression, does sugar cause depression, can sugar cause depression, low blood sugar depression, sugar depression – Related Articles
  4. Depression and diabetes (n.d.).
    https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/emotions/depression Sugar and Depression, does sugar cause depression, can sugar cause depression, low blood sugar depression, sugar depression – Related Articles
  5. Depression [Fact sheet]. (n.d.).
    https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression Sugar and Depression, does sugar cause depression, can sugar cause depression, low blood sugar depression, sugar depression – Related Articles
  6. Hu, D., et al. (2019). Sugar-sweetened beverages consumption and the risk of depression: A meta-analysis of observational studies [Abstract].
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032718315040 Sugar and Depression, does sugar cause depression, can sugar cause depression, low blood sugar depression, sugar depression – Related Articles
  7. Major depression. (2019).
    https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml
  8. Mayne, S. T. (2019). Statement on new guidance for declaring added sugars on food labels for single-ingredient sugars, syrups, and certain cranberry products. (2019).
    https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/statement-new-guidance-declaration-added-sugars-food-labels-single-ingredient-sugars-and-syrups-and
  9. Reis, D. J., et al. (2020). The depressogenic potential of added dietary sugars.
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030698771930876X
  10. Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2018) Mental health.
    https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health
  11. Selhub, E. (2020). Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food.
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
  12. Timberlake, M., & Dwivedi, Y. (2019). Linking unfolded protein response to inflammation and depression: Potential pathologic and therapeutic implications.
    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-018-0241-z