Less Sugar, High Anxiety

I recently posted about the effects of demineralized water on my equanimity. But lack of minerals may have been only part of my problem. A few months ago, I began eliminating sweets from my diet, which helped me reach my goal. For years I had been rewarding myself at lunches and dinners with cookies, cakes, chocolate bars or ice cream, or some combination thereof. I bought and ate the best organic sweets, but they still contained a great deal of sugar. Statistics from The Diabetes Council indicate that US citizens consume over 126 grams of sugar per day.

A theory goes that we prefer sweetness because it indicates consumable carbohydrates in ripe fruit while sourness indicates unripe and bitter indicates spoiled or poisonous fruit. Refined sugar is, of course, very sweet, and it is difficult to find prepared foods that do not contain refined sugars such as high fructose corn syrup. As described in The Conversation, it is easy to get addicted to high levels of sugar in your diet:

Like drugs, sugar spikes dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. Over the long term, regular sugar consumption actually changes the gene expression and availability of dopamine receptors in both the midbrain and frontal cortex. Specifically, sugar increases the concentration of a type of excitatory receptor called D1, but decreases another receptor type called D2, which is inhibitory. Regular sugar consumption also inhibits the action of the dopamine transporter, a protein which pumps dopamine out of the synapse and back into the neuron after firing.

In short, this means that repeated access to sugar over time leads to prolonged dopamine signalling, greater excitation of the brain’s reward pathways and a need for even more sugar to activate all of the midbrain dopamine receptors like before. The brain becomes tolerant to sugar – and more is needed to attain the same “sugar high.”

After the dopamine receptors have become less available, signalling from normal levels of sugar consumption fails to “reach” the dopamine receptors – until you reacclimate. In the meantime, you can suffer the symptoms of dopamine deficiency. Medical News Today offers a long list of symptoms, but in myself I noticed:

trouble sleeping or disturbed sleep
feeling inexplicably sad or tearful
mood swings
feeling hopeless
feeling guilt-ridden
feeling anxious

I initially chalked these symptoms up to low zinc in my drinking water, but they may have been from low dopamine, or from both. Fortunately I seem to be acclimating, but it was a strange couple of months.

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