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Depression & the Sugar Connection
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"Elevating Your Mood with Nutrition"

For some, the food that they eat directly influences their moods because the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) plus undefined micro-constituents ultimately act as potent neuro-chemicals in the body. For example, some people feel energized when following a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet, while others are left feeling hungry, lethargic and depressed.
These experiences are not uncommon amongst the community. There have been many well documented cases where suffers have unknowingly been misdiagnosed with chemical imbalances in the brain associated with the neurotransmitters only to discover adverse food responses.

Nutritionists regularly document the dramatic improvements in mood, emotions, confidence and self-efficacy that are the result of some very simple lifestyle modifications. Regular exercise and modified diets can result in profound changes in the body’s own production of mood elevating chemicals - such as the endorphins and neurotransmitters such as serotonin that contribute to emotional well-being.

The Sugar connection.
Sugars and carbohydrate eventually convert into blood glucose. Unfortunately for some people they have overt or more volatile blood sugar reactions than others which lead often to mood changes. For some these changes occur not long after the sugars have been consumed and for others with the next half hour or two.

Sugar-sensitive people tend to have a more volatile blood sugar reaction to eating sweet foods than other people. For these individuals their blood sugar seems to rise more quickly and goes higher. Whether this is the actual case or not is contentious though for the suffers the feeling are overwhelming and very real.

To their minds this feels like a panic. This in turn causes the adrenal glands to release adrenaline in order to give you extra energy to cope with whatever dangers you are facing. The adrenaline, in turn, signals the pancreas to release a insulin -- more than is actually needed for the amount of food you have eaten. The task of the insulin is to get the sugar out of your blood and into your cells where it is needed to sustain your response -- be it flight or fight -- to the emergency.


The payload of insulin does its job well and the sugar is taken into your cells. The result of this evolutionarily chain reaction, as you might guess, is that you experience a very quick and very steep drop in your blood sugar level. This makes you extremely vulnerable to the symptoms of low blood sugar: exhaustion, restlessness, irritability, depression and foggy thinking.

Diet therefore for many become so important in the management of their emotional state. You can take as many supplements or deal with as much emotional baggage as you like though for these individuals very little results will be experienced until a suitable diet to manage the blood glucose responses is incorporated to there daily lives.

Vitamin Therapy

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies in some may cause depression. Correcting deficiencies, when present, often relieves depression. However, even if a deficiency cannot be demonstrated, nutritional supplementation may improve symptoms in selected groups of depressed people.

Vitamin B6

B6 or pyridoxine, is the cofactor for enzymes that convert L-tryptophan to serotonin and L-tyrosine to norepinephrine. Consequently, vitamin B6 deficiency might result in depression. One person volunteered to eat a pyridoxine-free diet for 55 days. The resultant depression was alleviated soon after supplementation with pyridoxine was begun.
While severe vitamin B6 deficiency is rare, marginal vitamin B6 status may be relatively common. A study using a sensitive enzymatic assay suggested the presence of subtle vitamin B6 deficiency among a group of 21 healthy individuals.9 Vitamin B6 deficiency may also be common in depressed patients. In one study, 21 percent of 101 depressed outpatients had low plasma levels of the vitamin.10 In another study, four of seven depressed patients had subnormal plasma concentrations of pyridoxal phosphate, the biologically active form of vitamin B6.11 Although low vitamin B6 levels could be a result of dietary changes associated with depression, vitamin B6 deficiency could also be a contributing factor to the depression.

Depression is also a relatively common side effect of oral contraceptives. The symptoms of contraceptive-induced depression differ from those found in endogenous and reactive depression. Pessimism, dissatisfaction, crying and tension predominate, whereas sleep disturbance and appetite disorders are uncommon. Of 22 women with depression associated with oral contraceptive use, 11 showed biochemical evidence of vitamin B6 deficiency. In a double-blind, crossover trial, women with vitamin B6 deficiency improved after treatment with pyridoxine, 2 mg twice a day for two months.12 Women who were not deficient in the vitamin did not respond to supplementation.

These studies indicate vitamin B6 supplementation is valuable for a subset of depressed patients. Because of its role in monoamine metabolism, this vitamin should be investigated as possible adjunctive treatment for other patients with depression. A typical vitamin B6 dose is 50 mg/day.

Folic acid

Folic acid deficiency may result from dietary deficiency, physical or psychological stress, excessive alcohol consumption, malabsorption or chronic diarrhoea. Deficiency may also occur during pregnancy or with the use of oral contraceptives, other estrogens preparations or anticonvulsants. Psychiatric symptoms of folate deficiency include depression, insomnia, anorexia, forgetfulness, hyperirritability, apathy, fatigue and anxiety.
Serum folate levels were measured in 48 hospitalized patients: 16 with depression, 13 psychiatric patients who were not depressed and 19 medical patients.14 Depressed patients had significantly lower serum folate concentrations than did patients in the other two groups. Depressed patients with low serum folate levels had higher depression ratings on the Hamilton Depression Scale than did depressed patients with normal folate levels.

These findings suggest that folic acid deficiency may be a contributing factor in some cases of depression. Serum folate levels should be determined in all depressed patients who are at risk for folic acid deficiency. The usual dose of folic acid is 0.4 to 1 mg/day. It should be noted that folic acid supplementation can mask the diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency when the complete blood count is used as the sole screening test. Patients in whom vitamin B12 deficiency is suspected and who are taking folic acid should have their serum vitamin B12 measured.

Vitamin B12

B12 deficiency can also manifest as depression. In depressed patients with documented vitamin B12 deficiency, parenteral (intravenous) administration of the vitamin has resulted in dramatic improvement. Vitamin B12, 1 mg/day for two days (route of administration not specified), also produced rapid resolution of postpartum psychosis in eight women.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C as the cofactor for tryptophan-5-hydroxylase, catalyzes the hydroxylation of tryptophan to serotonin.18 Vitamin C may therefore be valuable for patients with depression associated with low levels of serotonin. In one study, 40 chronic psychiatric inpatients received 1 g/day of ascorbic acid or placebo for three weeks, in double-blind fashion.19 In the vitamin C group, significant improvements were seen in depressive, manic and paranoid symptom complexes, as well as in overall functioning.


Magnesium deficiency can cause numerous psychological changes, including depression. The symptoms of magnesium deficiency are nonspecific and include poor attention, memory loss, fear, restlessness, insomnia, tics, cramps and dizziness. Plasma magnesium levels have been found to be significantly lower in depressed patients than in controls. These levels increased significantly after recovery. In a study of more than 200 patients with depression and/or chronic pain, 75 percent had white blood cell magnesium levels below normal. In many of these patients, intravenous magnesium administration led to rapid resolution of symptoms.

Magnesium has also been used to treat premenstrual mood changes. In a double-blind trial, 32 women with premenstrual syndrome were randomly assigned to receive 360 mg/day of magnesium or placebo for two months. The treatments were given daily from day 15 of the menstrual cycle until the onset of menstruation. Magnesium was significantly more effective than placebo in relieving premenstrual symptoms related to mood changes.

These studies suggest that magnesium deficiency may be a factor in some cases of depression. Dietary surveys have shown that many Americans fail to achieve the Recommended Dietary Allowance for magnesium. As a result, subtle magnesium deficiency may be common in the United States. A nutritional supplement that contains 200400 mg/day of magnesium may therefore improve mood in some patients with depression.


SAMe (pronounced "sammy") is short for S-adenosylmethionine, a molecule that the body continually produces to fuel numerous vital body functions. The body manufactures SAMe from methionine, an amino acid found in protein-rich foods, and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy-producing compound found in all the body's cells. The SAMe molecule then donates a piece of itself (a methyl group) to body tissues and organs, providing a critical link in methylation, a chemical reaction that occurs billions of times a second throughout the body. In giving up a part of itself, SAMe promotes cell growth and repair.

SAMe also contributes to the formation of key compounds in the brain, including the neurotransmitter dopamine and the mood-enhancer serotonin. In addition, it helps to maintain desirable levels of glutathione, a major antioxidant that protects against cell damage from oxygen molecules called free radicals. Taken as a supplement, SAMe compensates for any deficiencies and encourages the body to run efficiently.

Several studies indicate that SAMe eases mild to moderately severe depression. A sweeping review of dozens of small clinical trials (called a "meta-analysis") testing SAMe for depression concluded that it appears to work as well as the frequently prescribed tricyclic antidepressants (imipramine, amitriptyline, desipramine) in easing depression. Just as importantly, it works faster, often starting to improve mood within a week. This contrasts significantly with standard antidepressants, whose effects can take several weeks to become apparent. In a University of California study of 17 severely depressed adults, 62% of the participants who took SAMe for four weeks (1,600 mg daily) showed significant improvements in symptoms, compared to 50% of those who used desipramine (a conventional antidepressant). Unlike many prescription antidepressants, which often cause unpleasant side effects such as as drowsiness, dry mouth, and constipation, SAMe appears to cause few if any side effects.


L-tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid (protein building block) that the body synthesizes from phenylalanine, another amino acid. Tyrosine is important to the structure of almost all proteins in the body. It is also the precursor of several neurotransmitters, including L-dopa, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.

L-tyrosine, through its effect on neurotransmitters, may affect several health conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, depression, and other mood disorders. Studies have suggested that tyrosine may help people with depression. Preliminary findings indicate a beneficial effect of tyrosine, along with other amino acids, in people affected by dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Due to its role as a precursor to norepinephrine and epinephrine (two of the body’s main stress-related hormones) tyrosine may also ease the adverse effects of environmental, psychosocial, and physical stress.


5-HTP is a derivative of the amino acid tryptophan (a hydroxyl group added to the 5-position). In the body, tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP, which then can be converted into serotonin (a potent neurotransmitter in the brain). Although 5-HTP is not found at any significant level in a normal diet, tryptophan is found in a wide variety of protein foods. The 5-HTP used in dietary supplements is derived from the seeds of and African plant (Griffonia simplicifolia).

Tryptophan supplementing has been found to relieves mild to moderate depression, relieves insomnia and promotes restful sleep, promote weight loss by suppressing appetite and reduces overall sensation of pain (migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, general muscle pain)

5-HTP is typically used to treat mild depression based on the theory that as a precursor to serotonin, supplements of 5-HTP can increase serotonin levels and influence mood, sleep patterns and pain control. The amino acid, tryptophan, can also be broken down in the body to yield ribose and/or NAD – both of which have been associated with increased energy levels. While these are certainly logical theories, the scientific evidence supporting them remains moderate at best. In a few small studies, however, 5-HTP has been shown to be as effective as prescription antidepressant medications – and with fewer side effects.


Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid – meaning that the body cannot synthesize it on its own and we must get it from the diet. The primary dietary sources of phenylalanine are high protein foods such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. Phenylalanine has been found to help maintains the nervous system, relieves depression, elevate mood, decreases pain, boost memory, suppresses appetite.

DLPA has two distinct fates in the body. The L-form of phenylalanine can be converted in the body to another amino acid – tyrosine. Tyrosine, in turn, can be converted into one of several neurotransmitter molecules (L-dopa, norepinephrine, and epinephrine), each of which have important functions in brain metabolism. The D-form of phenylalanine cannot be converted to tyrosine, but it can be converted to another compound called phenylethylamine (as can the L-form), which may have effects in elevating mood, treating depression and altering pain sensation.


Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid, a type of fat found in every cell in the body. It is particularly concentrated in the brain, where it has the important task of keeping cell membranes fluid, flexible and primed for nutrient absorption. PS also plays a critical role in supporting nerve tissue; it aids proper release and reception of neurotransmitters in the brain, for example. In short, PS helps to keep memory-related pathways functioning smoothly.
Research indicates that when PS levels naturally decline with age, so too does the ability to learn, remember things and stay alert. Depression may also develop as a result of age-related PS insufficiency. PS supplements have been proposed as a partial solution to such developments. Rapidly absorbed into the brain, these supplements may compensate for low PS levels and thus prevent or even reverse age-related declines in brain function. PS actually appears in numerous foods, including rice and green leafy vegetables, but only in small amounts. Commercially prepared supplements, on the other hand, offer a concentrated source.

Combat depression. Reports from clinical trials of depressed older adults taking PS supplements indicate that the nutrient had a positive influence on mood and behaviour, minimizing such reactions as apathy, withdrawal and loss of initiative. In one study, depressive symptoms lifted after 30 days of treatment. PS is also taken by younger people struggling with depression, although few if any studies on the subject have been done. Parkinson's disease sufferers may also find PS useful for relieving depression.

Increase ability to handle stress. When under stress, the body's adrenal glands set up their output of cortisol, a hormone that can, among other things, decrease immunity, interfere with wound healing and produce mood swings when present at chronically elevated levels. Supplemental PS may reduce cortisol levels, helping to enhance a person's sense of well-being. Cortisol output is also greater during intense exercise. Interestingly, a recent study of 12 male athletes found that when they took PS supplements, cortisol levels fell and their sense of well-being rose. Compared with their time on a placebo, the participants also had less muscle soreness while they were taking PS.

For more information about supplements containing Phosphatidylserine, Phenylalanine and SAMe please contact our office on 02 4734 9010 (Australia).

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