Study Says, Like Alcohol, Sugar Can Trigger Depression During Holidays

A new University of Kansas study says you should take it easy on the sweets to avoid seasonal depression.

December is high time for holiday parties—and all of the delicious treats that come with them. But, according to a new study published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, that increase of sugar doesn't only affect your waistline potentially—it can also lead to the holiday blues. Researchers from the University of Kansas analyzed a wide variety of data on the physiological and psychological effects of consuming added sugar, which is present in many beloved holiday desserts. And they determined that eating too much sugar around the holidays can have a similar effect as drinking too much alcohol.

"Alcohol is basically pure calories, pure energy, non-nutritive and super toxic at high doses," study co-author Stephen Ilardi, PhD, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, said in a statement. "Sugars are very similar. We're learning when it comes to depression, people who optimize their diet should provide all the nutrients the brain needs and mostly avoid these potential toxins."

This is especially true for those who are prone to seasonal depression, which affects approximately half a million Americans. As with drinking several glasses of wine, eating a box of cookies might provide a temporary feeling of comfort and joy, but can make you feel worse overall if regularly consumed in large quantities.

"When we consume sweets, they act like a drug," Ilardi said. "They have an immediate mood-elevating effect, but in high doses they can also have a paradoxical, pernicious longer-term consequence of making mood worse, reducing well-being, elevating inflammation and causing weight gain."

Ilardi also said that a "large subset of people with depression have high levels of systemic inflammation," and since eating an excessive amount of sugar has been linked to low-grade inflammation, these "inflammatory hormones can directly push the brain into a state of severe depression."

As with alcohol, what counts as "too much" often depends on the person, and there's "no one-size-fits-all approach to predicting exactly how any person's body will react to any given food at any given dose." However, as a rule of thumb, Ilardi suggests adhering to the guidelines set by the American Heart Association, which recommends limiting your daily intake of added sugar to 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men. Unfortunately, that's less than one slice of cake, so if you choose to indulge, do it wisely!

Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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