Body, Mind & Spirit

Sugar Can Drive Highs and Lows in Mood


Whenever you give way to temptation and have anything loaded with sugar, have you noticed the immediate feeling of energy only to be followed later by physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches, or extreme fatigue? You probably have. If not, then watch any child who has had anything sugary and wait about 30 minutes and prepare for tantrums, irritability, or the need for a time-out. Sugar profoundly affects mood at any age. Whether you are diabetic or not, sugar or other carbohydrates can cause rush and crash feelings that are chemically created by your body. 

You really are what you eat, so it’s important to watch what you eat and when you eat it. Since the brain runs mostly on glucose and moods are created there as well, rushes and crashes make sense. A late-night bowl of ice cream may seem like a great idea in a moment of instant gratification, but it may keep you up later or feeling awful in the morning. There is hidden sugar in other foods that can cause you to be moody, particularly if you have diabetes.

One study in “Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics” looked at how glycemic variability affects people of different ages and genders. (S. Penckofer et al., 2012).

Anxiety and depression occur more often in women with diabetes than men with diabetes…anxiety and depression may impact diabetes self-care behaviors and quality of life, and glycemic variability may be a factor.

Depression affects about 25% of people with diabetes and they are more susceptible to blood sugar highs and lows. High glucose (hyperglycemia) has been shown to make people angrier or depressed, and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is associated with anxiety. We have all heard of being “hangry,” which means you have not eaten in so long you become irritable and maybe even volatile or violent. Diabetic rages occur when people are not paying attention to their glucose levels.   

Stress levels also affect blood sugar, so it is important to reduce things that upset you as much as possible whether you are diabetic or not. Cortisol, the stress hormone, also has a large impact on anxiety and irritability. Glycemic levels and many other factors make it imperative to be sure to reduce sugar intake when under great stress. Counterintuitively, sugar cravings increase under stress. Our bodies can sabotage our well-being if we are unaware of how to recognize when sugar rushes or crashes are the culprits.

Simple dietary changes to reduce sugar can help you feel better, and everyone around you may thank you for it, too. Decreasing sugar in our diets increases a sweeter disposition. You will be better able to enjoy a sweeter life, which is something we all crave.ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Joye, LMHC, PA, is a licensed mental health counselor with offices in Lakeland and Winter Haven. She holds a Master of Arts in Counseling from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. For more information, visit

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