Uncontrolled blood sugars have been shown to increase the risk of mood disorders like anxiety and depression in both diabetic and non-diabetic populations. Utilizing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can aid in preventing large variations in blood glucose levels and decrease the risk of undesirable mood changes.
It has been well-documented in research that diabetic individuals – a population that has uncontrolled blood sugars typically illustrated with frequent bouts of hyperglycemia or high blood sugar levels – are twice as likely to have depression as healthy individuals are. Approximately 25% of diabetics have been diagnosed with depression, and nearly 20% experience anxiety.
We also see a correlation between the risk of mood disorder development and frequent high and low blood sugars in a healthy population as well. These relationships are proving to be more important now than ever, as the rate of diabetes, blood sugar dysregulation, insulin resistance and obesity are on the rise .
Relationships between blood sugar levels and overall mood are well-established, especially when looking at continuous highs and lows, otherwise known as poor glycemic regulation. This poor regulation overtime can reflect certain mental health symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, increased worry, and possibly the brain’s desire to run primarily on glucose as its fuel source.
Comprehensive programs that utilize continuous glucose monitors and nutrition experts can serve as tools to provide real time feedback that will assist in identifying blood sugar trends that may contribute to feelings of anxiety or altered mood (click here for additional information). Identifying patterns in glucose dysregulation can lead to lifestyle changes that may prevent the development of depression and anxiety.
There are a few reasons for poor glucose control resulting in higher prevalence of depression in both diabetic and healthy populations. Research has shown that diets high in added sugars or foods that ultimately raise your blood sugar are linked to depression and adverse mental health symptoms after several years. This informs us that diets high in added sugar impacts mental health on a long-term basis.
A study showed that women with diabetes who had poorly managed or inconsistent blood sugar levels were associated with a decreased quality of life and reported more negative moods. These moods differed depending on glucose levels. For example, high blood sugar levels or hyperglycemia was associated with feelings of anger and sadness, while hypoglycemia or low blood sugar was associated with nervousness .
That being said, it is not just diabetics that are susceptible to blood sugar fluctuations. Non-diabetic populations that consume high amounts of refined carbohydrates and added sugars are also at risk for this dysregulation. A 2017 prospective study showed a positive association between increased sugar consumption and common mental disorders within an otherwise healthy population.
Some of the best ways to address these issues are through diet and lifestyle changes such as; managing and decreasing overall stress (for more information on strategies to address this click here), increasing other macro/micro nutrients that help with blood sugar regulation (protein, fat, fiber – click here for more information), and decreasing dietary intake of refined carbohydrates and/or added sugars. Other well documented reasons that glucose levels can influence anxiety and mood are:
While additional research can only serve to strengthen our understanding of the relationship between blood sugar dysregulation and mental health disorders, it seems very plausible that making changes to both dietary intake, and lifestyle factors to help stabilize glucose levels can assist in preventing the development of some mood disorders. Continuous glucose monitors may allow for real time insight into how our diet, activity, stress, and sleep can affect our overall blood glucose trends – preventing large swings in our glucose levels. Due to the complicated nature of mental health disorders, it is imperative to seek behavioral health care if and when needed, as dietary and lifestyle changes may only help to address one area of concern with these types of disorders (CDC resource page on mental health).