You’ve probably heard that depression and other mental health issues are based on a lack of brain chemicals such as serotonin and GABA. Conventional treatment is to give medications that trick the brain into thinking it has enough of these chemicals. But new research shows in many cases mental health issues are related to chronic inflammation, not necessarily a lack of chemicals. And unstable blood sugar is often at the root of inflammation.
How does inflammation cause mood issues?
When the body is chronically inflamed, it sends chemical messengers to the brain, where they activate the brain’s immune cells, called glial cells. Chronic inflammation permanently activates the glial cells, setting off a cascade of problems:
• Reduced production of brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA.
• Brain cells unable to produce vital energy needed to thrive.
• Cells degrade and die, releasing toxins into the brain, causing even more damage.
The result? Depression, anxiety, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
How does blood sugar factor in?
The fix for these issues is managing the destructive inflammatory cascade. At the core of systemic inflammation for many people is blood sugar balance. When we eat too many sugars or carbs, the body over-produces insulin, a hormone that helps escort glucose (sugar) into cells for energy. Too much insulin in the blood exhausts the cells, resulting in them becoming resistant to it (insulin resistance). This leads to excess glucose in the bloodstream, which is severely damaging to tissues in the blood vessels and brain. It is also a precursor to diabetes.
How can I keep my blood sugar balanced?
By keeping blood sugar balanced, we can help reduce the inflammatory cascade that creates brain inflammation. Below are dietary and lifestyle habits that help keep blood sugar stable. By practicing them, you may notice positive shifts in your mood, energy level and mental focus:
• Always eat a protein-strong breakfast within an hour of waking. Include healthy fats, and avoid sweets before lunch.
• Eat every 3–4 hours to avoid low blood sugar.
• Eat protein with every meal and snack; never eat just sweets.
• When you crave sugar, choose protein or foods with healthy fats such as coconut or olive oil.
• Eat a small high-protein snack before bed to keep blood sugar stable throughout the night.
• Don’t use caffeine to boost low energy in that afternoon “crash;” it’s your brain telling you it needs real nutrients, not stimulants. Instead, eat a healthy snack with protein, fat and a few carbs, and hydrate with water.
• Wake and go to bed at the same time every day. Get plenty of sleep and if you’re tired, let yourself nap.
• Exercise regularly to keep blood sugar stable. Also, a 5 to 7-minute burst of high intensity exercise helps reduce inflammatory factors in the brain.
Certain botanicals are highly effective in helping manage blood sugar and reduce brain inflammation. If you have questions about mood and blood sugar stability, please schedule an appointment.
For more in-depth information on the inflammation-mood link, read this outstanding new book by Dr. Kelly Brogan, A Mind of Your Own.