No news flash here: eating a very high carb diet can lead to metabolic disorders such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. But is there a connection between carb cravings and anxiety, depression, intense PMS and other mood disorders?
When you’re feeling sad or emotionally vulnerable, are you tempted to stuff those emotions down or minimize the pain with a pint of ice cream or some other high-sugar/high-carb treat?
If you give in to your urges, perhaps you’ll feel a little better at least temporarily. But in the long run, can giving in to carb cravings make you feel even more anxious or depressed?
The link between high-carb diets and mood disorders has been well-documented for decades. For instance, in this 1990 study published in the journal, Drugs, found that premenstrual syndrome (PMS), seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other mood disorders are all “characterized by episodic bouts of increased carbohydrate consumption and depressed mood.”
Support Your Mood By Eliminating Refined Carbs
If you eat a ton of veggies, compared to the average Ketogenic/low-carb lifestyle eater, you may be eating a significant number of grams of carbohydrates per day. But obviously, nutrient-dense veggies support overall health, including mental balance.
It’s the high intake of refined carbohydrates that can make you moodier. Eating foods like highly-processed grains and consuming drinks with added sugars are linked with new-onset depression, a 2015 study conducted by Columbia University Medical Center researchers, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded.
The diets of over 70,000 older women who participated in the National Institutes of Health’s Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study between 1994 and 1998 were analyzed, including the types of carbs they consumed, and the glycemic index and load for each type of carb.
Why Do High-Carb Diets Make Anxiety & Depression Worse?
Serotonin, sometimes known as “the happy hormone” is actually a neurotransmitter. Research shows that serotonin levels are lower in people with depression and mood disorders.
The conventional, Western medicine approach to low serotonin neurotransmission is anti-depressant drugs, especially serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRI drugs increase the amount of serotonin available to brain cells. The problem with SSRI drugs, however, is that they may become less effective over time and also may cause side effects, including feeling more anxious, constipation, dry mouth or dizziness, to name a few.
Can Keto Cure High-Carb Associated Depression?
It’s not easy for high-carb addicts to modify their diet. After all, sugar is so powerful, it can be more addictive than cocaine!
But if somebody who has mood disorders is motivated to improve their condition—without drugs—can switching to a low-carb diet help? Without doubt, reducing refined carbs will help. However, is going from one extreme to the other—high carb to ultra low-carb—a good idea for reducing anxiety and depression?
According to research in the Journal of Neurochemistry, being in a state of ketosis (burning body fat for energy instead of sugar in the blood), which is achieved and confirmed by eating a low-carb diet and diligent ketone body testing, can improve GABA activity.
GABA is a calming neurotransmitter, and anxiety is linked with low levels of GABA. You can think of GABA as your internal supply of valium. If you’re in a state of ketosis, the number of energy-producing factories in the cells called mitochondria increase, including brain cells. Anxiety and other mood disorders are associated with low mitochondria production.
You don’t have to be a card-carrying keto club member in order to improve and regulate your mood. But by drastically reducing the number of refined carbs in your diet—regular pasta, bread, cereal, pastries, etc.—-you’ll be well on your way to supporting your brain chemistry for well-being.