A cross-cultural analysis published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found a strong correlation between refined sugar consumption and mental illness. Researchers found that a high national intake of refined sugar predicted a higher incidence of schizophrenia and depression. Research published in Neuroscience in 2002 found a high fat, high sugar diet reduces a key growth hormone in the brain necessary for memory and learning. Research into the correlation between diet and mental illness is finally expanding. This new research is shedding much needed light on the reality that diet does play a role in the incidence of mental illness.
The most provocative finding in the cross-cultural analysis was the consistent connection between refined sugar intake and worse outcomes for schizophrenia and increased prevalence of depression. Researchers also found that consumption of pulses or whole grains and high consumption of starchy root vegetables were linked to a lower prevalence of schizophrenia and depression. The connection between dietary habits and mental illness was not seen with healthy carbohydrate consumption but strongly correlated with refined sugar consumption. Sugar consumption causes a cascade of physiological effects that may explain the increased prevalence of mental illness.
Refined sugar consumption suppresses brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF, an important growth hormone in the brain. This growth hormone is extremely important for the health of neurons in the brain. BDNF triggers new connections between neurons in the brain which is crucial for memory function. Studies have shown low BDNF levels in patients with depression and schizophrenia. The consumption of refined sugar has the potential to exacerbate depression and schizophrenia by contributing to low BDNF levels.
Refined sugar is notorious for causing increased inflammation in the body. Regular consumption of refined sugar can lead to chronic inflammation which can disrupt immune system functioning. Chronic inflammation is implicated in arthritis, some forms of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease among many other illnesses. Chronic inflammation has also been linked to a higher risk of depression and schizophrenia. Psychologists who have become aware of the recent research on sugar and mental illness have begun recommending sugar free diets to patients.
Dr. IIardi, associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, stated that he has encouraged depressed patients to remove refined sugar and refined foods from their diets. Patients who were willing to comply to these recommendations reported significant improvements in mental clarity, mood and energy. Research and patient experiences indicate that a diet high in whole grains and low in refined foods and sugar can provide significant improvement in mental health, clarity and reduced risk of mental illness.
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