When the temperature drops and fall wind gusts spin piles of dropped leaves in circles, you know the start of the sugar season is here. It begins with the arrival of Halloween candy on reception desks, at bank teller windows and in your home. You may smile as you grab your first bite, and you think fondly of trick-or-treating when you were little. You may hide your bags of goodies from your children and spouse when they try to treat themselves early. It’s part of the season.
Not so obvious
What isn’t so obvious at first, or it is something you may willfully push away in your memories, is that winter brings with it the blues, melancholia, sadness, loss of interest, or in modern words, depression. Cold, dark, damp and inward are features of the season and within days of Halloween many people feel the symptoms of depression creeping over their life like a ghoulish pall. They may begin to focus on people who’ve passed away, or worry about how much money they are spending. It is harder to get up in the morning and everything takes more effort. Some head back to the doctor for winter meds, some cocktail of drugs to try to ease the worst of it, so they don’t become completely debilitated.
In 2009 a psychiatric researcher began to ask some provocative questions about the links between sugar and mental illness. There was a lot of anecdotal evidence of possible connections but all of the data was not yet compressed into strong picture that was easy to understand. His analysis noted that there appeared to be a significant connection between refined sugar and mental health issues.
Harmful Refined Sugar
Refined sugar is easiest to understand as the white granular powder that can be poured into your drink. This sugar is refined in a manufacturing process from plants that produce natural sugars. This refining process makes sugar easy to use in baking, cooking or by directly pouring it over food. It also concentrates sugar in a manner that isn’t found in nature, and in a way our bodies were not designed to process well. Refined sugars are not at all friendly to the human body.
The regular intake of refined sugar causes a chemical reaction in the body that triggers inflammation. This is one reason doctors will tell you never to eat sweets when you are sick. While the fuel in the sugar will appear to give you an immediate energy boost, the chemical reaction will cause your body to have to fight inflammation as well as whatever is already making you sick. In a way, sugar is like an ally of the enemy. It isn’t a good idea to arm your enemies, particularly in the fight for mental wellness.
Refined sugars also lead to brain loss. Sugar does this by suppressing key neuron growth hormones in the brain. When these hormones are suppressed over long periods of time the brain actually shrinks and is otherwise damaged. There is already good scientific evidence that the suppression of these hormones leads to depression and even schizophrenia.
Time for Winter
When the sugar season begins, few people take action to protect themselves from the constant offering of refined sugar sweets that are used to express seasonal joy. No one wants to look at a cookie and realize that it won’t make you feel good. If you are subject to winter depression the first action to take is to remove refined sugars from your diet. This means no sweetener in your morning coffee, no soda, no desserts, no candies, cookies, cakes, pastries, white bread or crackers, and of course, no alcohol. By pruning these items from your intake you are denying sugar the opportunity to compound other causes of depression.
The next step to fighting the sugar season naturally is by going outside into the sunshine for at least one hour each day. This is particularly critical if you live in an area where sunlight becomes rare. If your area doesn’t have regular sunshine, buy a sunlight lamp and expose yourself to sunlight based on the recommendations of your doctor. This exposure to sunlight is not tanning such as you might do in a tanning bed. A sunlight lamp reproduces the essential light rays that are necessary for health. A sunlight lamp combats some of the symptoms of hibernation and depression that can affect people during low-light winter conditions. These symptoms may include: the desire to sleep more in the winter, the desire to stay in dark rooms, and a reduction in wanting to be active. These have all become part of a syndrome called SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a response to inadequate sunlight. When a person gets trapped in a cycle of depression their metabolism may drop causing them to gain weight. They may resist working out because they feel too tired or lackluster when the act of exercising will actually release endorphins, which will improve how they feel. That leads to negative selftalk, more depression, less exercise, and more weight gain.
You may feel like a party pooper when you say no to alcohol, sodas and sweets during holiday parties. Eat before you attend the party so you aren’t tempted to snack. Bring bottled water to drink. Get involved in party games instead of drinking. Leave early claiming other events. By having a strategy to negotiate the sugar season, you can make a dramatic impact on how you feel throughout the season.