If you’re like some of my patients, you may feel a little down now and then. This type of depression is usually temporary, or maybe the result of poor quality of sleep. Yet, if your low mood, or sadness, seems to recur everyday it could be a little more complicated than mid-afternoon slump.
Did you ever think that your afternoon soft drink break might be the cause of your plummeting mood? Oddly enough, there’s a group of neurology researchers who think it is and will be presenting their findings on this very subject next month to the American Academy of Neurology in San Francisco. It’s not just sugar-sweetened soft drinks, but diet-drinks as well, which poses a little bit of a mystery to solve. Here’s what I think the connection might be between your depression and your soft drink….
Depression and Your Soft Drink
Mental health research statistics tell us that 1 in 10 Americans suffer from depression. Yet, worldwide it affects about 120 million people and is responsible for about 850,000 deaths each year. Those are some sobering statistics and health researchers, and doctors alike, should take a serious look into what’s behind these rates of depression. Though, certainly a combination of personal situations and life events can influence becoming depressed, researchers are starting to take a closer look at what people are eating, and drinking, as a possible cause for their ongoing depression.
Not long ago researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville looked at about 264,000 over-age-50 people enrolled in an AARP diet and health study. On coming into the study, they were asked about their soft drink intake.
Ten years later they were asked if they had been diagnosed with depression in the interim decade. The results were surprising. In those participants who had been drinking diet soft drinks over that time, 30% were diagnosed with depression. In those participants who had continued to drink sugar-sweetened soft drinks, 22% were diagnosed with depression. Coffee drinking, however, was associated with a 10% decrease in depression.
Interestingly, the researchers didn’t really venture a guess as to why these findings occurred, only that perhaps people who are depressed seek out sweet-tasting food and drink more often. Yet, these people were only diagnosed with depression after the study began so I don’t think there’s any mystery to what caused the high depression rate. I think the answer is two-fold.
1. Diet soft drinks. Now, this study didn’t state whether the diet soft drinks these participants drank were sweetened with aspartame, Splenda (sucralose), or some other non-sugar sweetener. Yet, the most popularly consumed diet soft drink today is aspartame-sweetened Diet Coke. There is also a Splenda-sweetened Diet Coke as well but more people drink the aspartame version. There is only a handful of diet soft drinks sweetened with Splenda (Diet Rite brand sodas, Diet Coke, Pepsi One, Hansens) or stevia (Zevia, Virgil’s, Blue Sky Free, Thomas Kemper Natural Diet Soda).
Yet, since aspartame started being used in soft drinks back in the late 80’s, people started complaining to the FDA about a variety of symptoms – most of them neurological. The book, Aspartame Disease, by H.J. Roberts, MD, outlined the numerous symptoms as depression/mood disorders, headache, dizziness, seizures/convulsions, memory loss, and anxiety to name a few.
Another study done in 1993 by a psychiatrist (40 patients were given 30 mg/kg body weight of aspartame daily), had to be stopped because of severe depressive reactions in the first 13 patients tested. It was recommended that certain aspartame-sensitive individuals may become seriously depressed from ingesting aspartame. I believe it’s the aspartame that’s behind the diet soft drink and depression findings. Try stevia-sweetened drinks and see if your mood improves.
2. Regular soft drinks. Regular soft drinks are not just sweetened with sugar. They are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. This is a more concentrated sugar made from corn with a very high glycemic index. It causes your blood sugar levels to spike dramatically and stay elevated if you drink them several times a day, every day. Constant high blood sugar levels can cause diabetes. Studies show that people with diabetes are at much higher risk for depression. Undiagnosed, and uncontrolled, diabetes can present serious mood disorders – erratic behaviors, severe irritability, etc. In fact, fluctuating spikes in blood sugars can cause minute to minute changes in mood. It can decrease your ability to concentrate and make you hyperirritable, grouchy and snapping at everyone.
Recent research also shows an association between bipolar disorder and diabetes. Studies show that diabetics are 3 times more likely to have bipolar disorder. Undiagnosed bipolar disorder shares the same mood disorder symptoms as diabetes. The connection seems to be in unbalanced serotonin levels in the brain. Why? The brain is fueled by a steady supply of glucose. This helps manufacture a protein, tryptophan, which is the precursor of serotonin – a feel good hormone that stabilizes moods. Glucose spikes from fast-acting corn syrups in soft drinks, or other high glycemic index foods, causes serotonin levels to fluctuate wildly. You can develop depression, rage reactions, and serious violent mood swings.
There is no food value to soft drinks whatsoever and you are better off not drinking them. Other recent research on soft drinks show that even the caramel coloring used in colas, crème sodas, root beers, ginger ales, etc, to get that brown color may even cause cancer. If you want an artificially sweetened drink now and then, switch to the stevia-sweetened soft drinks available in bigger health food stores and grocery store chains. They are a little more expensive, but your emotional well-being, as well as your blood sugar levels, are well-worth the cost.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News