One of our readers wrote to ask –
Have you observed an impact of diet on mood? I feel that less carbs for example make me feel better. I’ve been experimenting with Paleo months ago. Any tips how I could explore this best?
We have a fair amount of clinical experience related to this question, but we have been surprised that relatively little research has been done on this issue. So, be aware that what we are going to say is subject to the usual biases and distortions that can crop up when people talk about their individual clinical experiences working with people with moods…
Simple carbohydrates are sedating and reduce anxiety
There is now a small literature that supports our observation (and people’s common sense experience of the effects of eating sweets) that simple carbohydrates, like sugar, white flour, etcetera, have effects that are somewhat akin to the effects of anti-anxiety medications like Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), etcetera.
Right after eating a high carbohydrate food there is a sense of relaxation as the body’s parasympathetic nervous system gets activated in order to digest what has just been eaten. That may be why folks with lots of anxiety and stress naturally turn to these foods as snacks when they are under pressure. They work.
Unfortunately, as with anti-anxiety medications, there are withdrawal effects. Anxiety increases above baseline as the effect of the sugar wears off. This tends to reinforce having another high carb snack…
Part of the reason that the Atkins and South Beach diet can be so effective is that the first phase (the carbohydrate elimination phase), once you get over the withdrawal effects, leads to a state where withdrawal anxiety is no longer experienced. You don’t crave carbs.
It makes sense, but we don’t know if this is true, that complex carbohydrates might avoid some of these problems since the peaks of blood glucose take longer to reach after eating a whole grain food.
Ketosis has antidepressant and mania inducing effects
There are case reports of mania after starting the Atkins. We have seen hypomania induced several times when a patient gets to the ketotic state on the Atikins and South Beach diets. Ketosis is the state your body enters when you almost completely eliminate carbohydrates from your diet. It is also the state you enter when you first go into starvation. It may be why so many mystics and hermits have powerful experiences of connectedness and even hallucinations when they go on their retreats.