Holiday Treats Can Trigger Depression

For some, the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year. For others, the winter months can amplify homesickness or other unhappy feelings. In either case, sweet holiday treats may worsen mood. According to research, the link between sugar and depression is not coincidental.

How It Happens

Nutritional imbalances and deficiencies interfere with proper brain function and hormone levels, causing poor concentration, feelings of guilt, lack of energy and other symptoms of depression. Unstable blood sugar levels are a common cause of poor mood.

Sweet desserts and refined carbohydrates cause sharp fluctuations in blood glucose levels, which are marked by irritability, forgetfulness and digestive problems. Processed foods often contain many refined carbohydrates and sugars, which greatly increase risk of depression. According to FoodForTheBrain.org:

In fact, a study of 3,456 middle-aged civil servants, published in British Journal of Psychiatry found that those who had a diet which contained a lot of processed foods had a 58 percent increased risk for depression, whereas those whose diet could be described as containing more whole foods had a 26 percent reduced risk for depression.

Whole food choices are typically promoted to improve physical health, but they also improve emotional health. Conversely, traditional treats and holiday sweets can ruin mood.

How to Help It

Eat for nutritional quality. Pumpkin pie and cookies are full of sugar and empty calories (unless the recipes are sugar-free). A healthy mix of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and organic whole food choices lower the risk of depression because they will not spike blood sugar. These foods are dense in nutrients, but not in calories. Vital nutrients support and regulate the processes of the body.

For instance, B vitamins—B2, B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12—regulate the toxic amino acid homocysteine, which prevents the brain from self-regulating. If the body is deficient in B vitamins, the level of homocysteine can increase and the brain struggles to manage gene expression, enzyme regulation and the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine.

Regular exercise also plays a key role in stabilizing blood sugar. Studies have shown that exercise is most effective when performed in a green, outdoor environment.

Supplementation also helps fight symptoms of depression when certain nutrients are otherwise difficult to obtain from dietary sources. Omega-3 fatty acids, for instance, have been shown to help the function of the brain’s neurotransmitters and increase production of serotonin. The human body cannot produce omega-3s.

Mood, learning ability and quality of sleep are all regulated by serotonin. Often, drugs prescribed to treat depression are designed to increase the level of serotonin produced by the brain. These medications often carry dangerous side effects. Omega-3 supplementation, on the other hand, has been shown to reduce depression symptoms by as much as 53 percent—without side effects.

What You Can Do

Enjoy your holiday season. Your schedule may be packed and traffic may be hectic, but stay calm by planning ahead.

Retool your diet with small, manageable steps that don’t cost a fortune. Plan out an exercise routine (if you already have one, tweak it to ensure you’re getting the most out of your time). Also, look into the benefits of supplementation. All-natural supplements are cheaper than prescription medications, without the laundry list of side effects.