carbohydrates depression hormones

The Carbohydrate Cascade into Depression

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Regardless of what you may have heard about sugar and its ill effects on weight and health, there is undeniable and surmounting evidence that carbohydrates are just as bad. And that should not be so hard to understand, as 100% of carbohydrates turn into sugar once consumed. Now I am not demonizing ALL carbs. Natural, non-processed carbohydrates from lower carbohydrate foods like green leafy and salad vegetables, nuts/seeds, low glycemic fruits… can be used to add flavor, variety and antioxidants/phytonutrients to fuel your body.

There is a lot of attention surrounding the benefits of low carbohydrate diets and the philosophy that eating high amounts of blood sugar affecting carbohydrates can increase physical risk factors for heart disease, metabolic syndrome and blood sugar disorders such as diabetes, low blood sugar and PCOS is heavily weighted in the literature. Now, this recent study brings attention to the mental/emotional risk of eating high glycemic carbohydrates.

According to an observational study appearing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2015, high glycemic carbohydrates increases the risk of depression (James Gangwisch, PhD from the department of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center co-authored, “High Glycemic Index Diet as a Risk Factor for Depression: Analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative”). The authors believe it opens the possibility for dietary interventions to treat or prevent depression. While this seems exciting and sheds light on an important topic, this is not the first study of its kind.

Back in 2013, Another study conducted by Michel Lucas, Ph.D., from the Harvard School of Public Health, followed close to 44,000 women (who had no history of depression ) over 12 years to identify a link between carbohydrates and depression. He found that carbohydrate foods such as pasta, bagel, soda and rice are “inflammation linked” (associated with blood inflammation markers: C-reactive protein, interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor α receptor 2). The results showed that women who ate more carbs or the most inflammation-linked foods had up to a 41 percent higher risk of developing depression when compared with women who ate the lowest amount of inflammation-linked foods. Margarine (trans fat) and meat were listed too. It is important to note that butter was not associated with higher inflammation and that it is true that meat will cause inflammation when consumed with high amounts of carbohydrates. When carbohydrates are low, this is not the case.

The authors believe the carbohydrates trigger a hormonal cascade that tells the body to reduce blood sugar levels, thereby leading to fatigue, mood changes and depressive symptoms. High glycemic carbohydrate laden foods that are considered low or non-fat and healthy are NOT! Potatoes, fruited yogurt (yes even if it is organic) and grapes are good examples.

Grapes do contain the highly potent antioxidant resveratrol but the calories are 100% sugar. Eating a couple of grapes as part of a snack may not be so bad but most people eat too many. In fact, if you read articles on the internet you may think it is healthy to eat a 100 calorie serving of grapes (1 cup) because it contains “fiber, vitamins C and K”. When in fact, there is only 1 gram of fiber in a cup of grapes and 27 grams of carbohydrates of which 23 are sugar that raises blood sugar and triglycerides, helps contribute to aging via the creation of Advanced Glycation Endproducts  (, and according to this new research affects hormones  that have the potential to send you into a downward spiral of depression.

It is difficult to change the way you think, to change what you believe but in this case, change may help you live a better life. Change the way you think about food and eating from calorie/fat phobic to a focus on physical and mental satisfaction.

About the author

Valerie Goldstein

Valerie raises the bar for health and nutrition know how with unconventional expertise and unconditional support for wellness.

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