By Dr. Jeffrey Eisenberg, MD

Sugar and Mood

Dopamine is an example of a “feel good” hormone. When this neurotransmitter is released and binds with the dopamine receptors in a particular part of our brain, we experience euphoria and a desire to pursue and repeat a specific pleasurable pathway.

Sugar happens to be one of the most powerful triggers of Dopamine release. It lights up that part of the brain like a pinball machine…similar to the effect one feels when addicted to alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana, and gambling. That feeling of well being that sugar facilitates is called the “sugar high”.

With repetitive stimulation however, the Dopamine receptor sites down regulate themselves so that larger amounts of Dopamine are needed to achieve the same “high”. This is what we call “tolerance”, the first step to full blown addiction.

So how does excess sugar consumption contribute to mood fluctuations? Well, it turns out that sugar and processed carbohydrates influence the blood levels of the very amino acids (tryptophan and tyrosine) that form our feel good hormones: dopamine and serotonin.

When we consume sugar, our blood glucose levels rise, resulting in an increased release of insulin. This allows the passage of those amino acids into the brain that form our feel good hormones. We then experience that all to familiar sugar rush and feeling of euphoria. However, as our blood sugar level continues to rise with excess consumption of sugar, the resulting hyper-secretion of insulin leads to a precipitous decline in that blood sugar level resulting in a rapid drop in our neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin). What follows is a feeling of depression, anxiety, or other mood fluctuations.

 Unstable blood sugar levels lead to unstable neurotransmitters and subsequently to significant fluctuations of mood! This is a particularly precarious situation for patients who are already anxious, depressed or bipolar. So cut out the excess sugar and feel better both physically and mentally!