How Sugar Can Affect & Exacerbate the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

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Ups and downs in blood sugar levels can trigger a bout of manic depression or exacerbate existing symptoms of Bipolar Disorder.

Proper brain function demands a steady supply of energy in the form of glucose; a dip in sugar affects how the brain functions. A drop in blood sugar impacts the brain’s ability to generate neurotransmitters. Low blood sugar can easily trigger an episode of mental health issues in people suffering from the condition.

The body releases adrenaline and cortisol when blood sugar levels drop beyond a certain level. These two hormones are associated with the body’s fight or flight response, and these assist in elevating blood sugar levels in the body. However, with bipolars, these chemicals give rise to the same emotions that are associated with anxiety, stress, and panic. The brain, already short of glucose essential for normal functioning, cannot determine that the stress hormones have been released to counter low sugar levels and are not a trigger for bipolar disorder.

A spike in blood sugars occurs when we eat too many simple carbohydrates. Researchers believe that such a spike stimulates the release of serotonin and dopamine; these are feel-good chemicals associated with pleasurable activities. Such spikes too can initiate a manic depression episode.

Scientists agree that irregularities in dopamine activity are one of the main reasons for manic depression as well as addiction. Since bipolars are at high risk of falling prey to addiction, any sugar spikes that increase dopamine activity are potentially very harmful. It is now established that dopamine plays a vital role in driving desires and cravings that include addictive conduct. High levels of dopamine drive bipolars into destructively addictive conduct, specifically during the manic phase.

It is imperative that bipolars stay away from foods with a high glycemic index to ensure that blood sugar levels remain within acceptable levels and do not fluctuate too much or too rapidly. People who can keep their carbohydrate and sugar intake under control report fewer and less intense episodes of manic depression.

Sugary foods stimulate the very same pathways that highly addictive drugs like cocaine do. We can therefore conclude that such foods are addictive too, and should be consumed sparingly by bipolars.
A diet rich in both sugars and fats is like a double whammy. It reduces the amount of BDNF, a protein that is required for regeneration of brain tissue and making new neural connections. People who suffer from bipolar syndrome have poor levels of this protein. An unregulated diet of junk food and high GI food items only exacerbates the situation.

The human brain has the power to command other organs, and a brain gone rogue makes a very poor master. Researchers are now linking obesity to the brain literally ordering food for itself. It needs glucose to work, but when there are imbalances in the brain, it does not know when to say, “stop”. It keeps sending signals for more sugar. An obese individual with bipolar disorder, therefore, needs to collect and understand information on the relationship between sugar and health.

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