Lifestyle changes are one of the keys to overcoming anxiety, and diet plays a significant role in a person's lifestyle. That's why many wonder whether or not sugar causes anxiety, and if cutting out sugar has the potential to fight anxiety symptoms. This article explores the relationship between sugar and anxiety, and how to make sure that you're not eating a diet that is causing you anxiety attacks.
Is Sugar Triggering Anxiety?
There's no such thing as a diet that truly causes anxiety on its own. But diet can increase anxiety that is already there. If you are struggling with anxiety symptoms, take our free 7 minute anxiety test to score your anxiety and learn more about how to treat it.
Your Diet and Anxiety
Scientists have known for years that the modern diet is severely overloaded in unhealthy sugars and fats. But researchers do not believe that diet causes anxiety. Rather, they believe that diet makes anxiety symptoms worse because they make it harder for your body to cope with stress.
That's why those that genuinely want to fight their anxiety still need a strategy that will be effective specifically for anxiety itself to complement any dietary changes. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to find out the best strategy for you.
Does Sugar Cause Anxiety?
Contrary to what you read online, sugar does not cause anxiety. Anxiety is a mental health issue, and it's very uncommon for a person's diet to "cause" anxiety. What sugar does do is create changes in your body that may make your anxiety symptoms worse, or cause feelings that trigger anxiety attacks.
Let's start with the latter.
When you suffer from anxiety attacks, you tend to become hypersensitive to your body. You fear your anxiety attacks, and you notice every single time you feel tired, lightheaded, sick, etc. You notice each and every ache and pain, and you notice when you're not thinking clearly. Every time you notice any of these changes, your anxiety spikes as a result.
Sugar itself doesn't necessarily cause any of these sensations. But sugar does stimulate various sensations in your body. Glucose - and the insulin released to counter glucose - can cause fatigue, trouble thinking, blurry vision and general ill feeling. For those without anxiety, many of these symptoms go unnoticed. But for those with anxiety, each and every one makes you worry that a panic attack is coming, and that fear increases your likelihood of getting one.
Symptoms of Sugar Rushes
Similarly, sugar rush and withdrawal do have a tendency to cause some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, like shaking and nervousness. For most people, this only occurs after considerable sugar consumption, but depending on what you eat and how long you go before eating again, this is a risk.
These symptoms are not causing anxiety, but if you already have anxiety, the added shaking and tension will make your anxiety worse.
Research Into Sugar and Anxiety
Animal research seems to confirm these symptoms. A study in 2008 found that rats that went on a sugar binge and then were deprived of food seemed to have a dopamine imbalance that lead to increased anxiety.
Another study published in 2009 found that long term sugar use seemed more likely to impair memory and reduce the ability to fight anxiety, although the mechanisms of this are unclear. These seem to indicate that sugar will affect your ability to live with anxiety, even if it is not causing the anxiety itself.
What to Do About Anxiety and Blood Sugar
The simple solution is to maintain a healthier diet. A healthier diet will be less prone to symptoms of sugar and insulin imbalances that often lead to panic and anxiety attacks. A healthier diet will also improve your body's ability to cope with stress, and potentially provide you with more energy that you can use to exercise or change your lifestyle in other ways.
Cutting down on refined sugars is important for overall health, and while it won't have a significant impact on your anxiety, minor changes can add up over time.
You'll still need to pair you dietary changes with effective anxiety strategies. I have helped hundreds of people struggling with their anxiety overcome their panic attacks and symptoms, and to start I need you to fill out my free 7 minute anxiety test now. It's the only way I can give you an idea of how to address your symptoms.
Avena, Nicole M., et al. After daily bingeing on a sucrose solution, food deprivation induces anxiety and accumbens dopamine/acetylcholine imbalance. Physiology & behavior (2008).
Chepulis, Lynne M., et al. The effects of long-term honey, sucrose or sugar-free diets on memory and anxiety in rats. Physiology & behavior 97.3 (2009): 359-368.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.