Nearly everyone is aware that sugar overconsumption may negatively impact your physical health due to obesity or other health concerns related to being overweight. What most people don’t know is that excessive sugar consumption can affect your mental health too, leading to other stress-driven, addictive behaviors. This is because long-term sugar consumption may reduce impulse control in your brain and lower your ability to resist high-sugar foods. This process of increasing tolerance and dependence on sugar is very similar to that of substance users.
How Does Sugar Overconsumption Reshape the Brain?
The neural pathways that regulate emotions and the consumption of food overlap, which explains why food and mood are interconnected. Sugar, in particular, may suppress the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in your brain, which regulates your stress response. Consuming high-sugar foods may temporarily give you a sense of pleasure, but over time, it weakens your body’s natural ability to handle stress.
Cortisol is your body’s stress hormone. Sugar has been found to inhibit stress-induced cortisol secretion in healthy people. The temporary relief may make them more dependent on sugar. Over time, excessive sugar consumption can increase the risk of anxiety and depression. Withdrawal from sugar can lead to side effects that are similar to withdrawal symptoms among substance users.
Can Sugar Boost Your Energy Level?
Many people think that a chocolate bar or other sugary snack may boost their energy level. While there is some truth in this, the effect is very temporary. Often, your glucose level will drop after around twenty minutes. Yes, you will feel an emotional lift, but soon you may feel more distracted and unfocused. Some people call this a “crash.” What happens is sugar artificially elevates your dopamine levels momentarily, then drops back down fast, making you feel as tired—or more so—than before. Some healthy, low-sugar snacks can boost your energy for a longer time. These include dark chocolate, bananas, almonds, and nuts.
In the long-term, sugar overconsumption may block your memory receptors in the brain, causing cognitive difficulties. High sugar levels can also block some naturally-balancing chemicals, such as Vitamin B and Chromium, leading to uncharacteristic outbursts of anger and aggression. For this reason, people who overconsume sugar for a long time can even show personality changes.
How Does Sugar Harm other Parts of the Body?
Sugar overconsumption is also found to be connected to Type 2 Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. These all have to do with disrupted dopamine levels. Both the genetic expression and availability of dopamine receptors change after consuming too much sugar over a long time. Eventually, this can lead to insulin resistance and a weakened immune system.
Consuming added sugar may raise blood pleasure and increase chronic, low-grade inflammation, which can be a silent killer by causing cardiovascular diseases. Sugar also overloads the liver, causing fat accumulation and fatty liver disease, which is a contributor to diabetes and heart diseases.
Why Does Sugar Negatively Impact Teen Mental Health?
Teens and adolescents in developed countries such as the United States are immersed in sugary products including foods and drinks. The overconsumption of sugar among young people is closely related to the worsening mental health epidemic among the same demographic.
Because teens and adolescents are in a vital stage of brain development, they are more susceptible to the addictive influences of sugar. The adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable to addictive stimuli, whether sugar or substances such as drugs and alcohol. A key growth hormone in the brain known as a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) may decrease, leading to depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
When teens fill up on sugary foods, they do not have an appetite for nutrient-rich foods that restore mental health. Teens who are obese may develop brain circuitry that predisposes them to a lifetime of sugar cravings. Sugar dependence not only impairs their memory and learning skills but sets them on an early track for addictive behaviors and health problems.
What Should You Eat When Craving Sweets?
Limiting sugar intake does not mean that you need to deny yourself the pleasure of sweet-tasting food. There are many natural and healthy alternatives to high-sugar processed foods. Take sweet potatoes and beets for example. Their flavors and rich fiber can be excellent replacements when you crave something sweet.
While adding natural sweet-tasting foods to your diet, you also need to remove processed foods with added sugar from your diet. These include fruit juice concentrates, corn syrup, sugar, brown sugar, etc. It is important to keep track of the sugar you consume, including added sugar in your beverages, coffee, and tea. This way you can make sure that you’re not consuming too much sugar in a day and can seek alternatives or find ways to decrease your sugar intake.
Many people are aware that sugar overconsumption may negatively impact people’s physical health due to problems such as obesity, but did you know that sugar consumption also impacts your mental health? Overconsumption of sugar, especially through processed foods, may lead to stress-driven, addictive behaviors. This is because long-term sugar consumption may reduce impulse control in the brain and lower your ability to resist high-sugar foods. For people recovering from substance addiction, refrain from consuming too much sugar, as this can complicate your recovery process. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our team of licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists are experts in building healthy eating habits into your custom treatment plan. Many of our staff have been in recovery themselves, so we understand the challenges of life after treatment. Our full medical residential facility offers a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, and 12-step programs. Call Laguna Shores Recovery today at (866) 906-3203.