Can Diet Cause Mental Health Problems?

by Kayleigh Gilbert

Are nonfat yogurt and sugar free candy as good for our bodies as many ads make it sound? What do we actually know about the chemically processed ingredients and their reactions with our bodies? Can these ingredients be connected to many mental and physical problems like ADD, unexplained blood clots, birth defects, and quite possibly even Alzheimer’s?

Refined sugars like the ones you would find in a bagel or a pumpkin bar have been linked to hypoglycemia which causes hyperactivity during low blood sugar. Wade and Wolraich (1995) did a study to find a connection and found, “This hypothesis became prominent after it was found in a study of 271 hyperactive children that following a glucose tolerance test many children had abnormal blood glucose curves that were similar to the pattern seen in adults with functional reactive hypoglycemia, and after hypoglycemia was diagnosed in aggressive criminal offenders”. Instead of medicating children who have symptoms of ADD or ADHD it could be as simple as changing their diet to contain less refined sugars.

Is Alzheimer’s disease as mysterious as we thought or is it possibly type 3 diabetes? The National Review of Medicine did an article in 2005 explaining, “Levels of insulin and of its receptors diminish significantly in the brain in early Alzheimer’s, and continue to fall as the disease progresses” (Dyer, 2005). Senior author Dr. Suzanne M de la Monte, a neuropathologist and professor of pathology at Brown Medical School, said in a press release. “And many of the unexplained features of Alzheimer’s, such as cell death and tangles in the brain, appear to be linked to abnormalities in insulin signaling. This demonstrates that the disease is most likely a neuroendocrine disorder, or another type of diabetes.” All of which can be linked to how much sugar and what type of sugar you put into your body.

Many people see “sugar free” or “diet” and they think they’re doing a great service to their bodies. In all actuality our bodies aren’t designed to process these ingredients. They are so manufactured that it caused greater harm to our bodies instead. Studies have found, “It has been reported that consumption of aspartame could cause neurological and behavioral disturbances in sensitive individuals” (Anonymous, 1984; Johns, 1986). “Headaches, insomnia and seizures are some of the neurological disturbance” (Humphries, Pretorius, and Naude. 2008). Aspartame can change your amino acid metabolism, protein structure, nucleic acid integrity and so much more. This can cause changes in regional brain function and concentration which can cause mental harm. Sucralose on the other hand can cause mental problems as well as physical. Sucralose has been shown to cause a higher chance of cancer, and tumors. The American Diabetes Association found, “Sucralose ingestion decreased the insulin clearance rate after ingesting the glucose load. (Yanina Pepino, Tiemann, Patterson, Wice, and Klein. 2013)

Diet can also cause harm to your unborn child if you are a mother. Prenatal care is one of the most important steps to having a healthy baby. Mothers who ingest these refined sugars and chemically processed ingredients can disrupt growth to their fetus and cause mental disorders or physical defects to their child. Simple foods like tuna fish could cause harm because of mercury content. My mother had a lot of chemically processed food and craved tuna fish while pregnant with me. Because of this, the growth to the right side of my face was disrupted and caused my right ear to never form completely. I was born with Goldenhar syndrome, a syndrome that is rare and doesn’t have any connection to genetics. “Goldenhar Syndrome is a congenital birth defect which involves deformities of the face. It usually affects one side of the face only. Characteristics include: A partially formed or totally absent ear (microtia), the chin may be closer to the affected ear, one corner of the mouth may be higher than the other, benign growths of the eye, a missing eye. Goldenhar is also known as Oculoauricular Displasia or OAV” (Faces). Scientists are uncertain as to why Goldenhar syndrome happens or what the connection is, yet diet clearly has a role.

Our society focuses on modern medicine to treat their symptoms and problems. Every drug has health risks though that you’re adding to the equation. Some medications don’t react well together or with your body as well. When many people hear the word “medication” they automatically think it is there to help them. Medication is put as a priority over diet.

Our diets revolve around our lifestyle and recently our lifestyle is rushed. We rush from place to place and so we go for the fast food or the cheap food to save a buck. Unfortunately saving some money right now may not save you money in the future. Something as simple as your diet could cause a clot in your brainstem and result in a stroke. Many people think it’s time consuming to focus on their diet but it can be as simple as staying away from processed foods, fast foods, and items that are labeled as “sugar free”. If you’re busy you can take a meal replacement shake to go, if you choose a good brand then you’ll find the shake will give you all of the nutrition you need as well as energy that doesn’t result in a crash. These simple changes in your diet could also help you lose weight, lower your risk of diabetes, and maintain a healthy weight.

Diets have a greater connection to both our mental and physical health then we are aware. Your diet could change whether you have a higher immunity to sickness or whether you’re always sick. “Sugar impacts your white blood cells by competing for space in those cells with Vitamin C.” (Holistic Health Reforms, 2012) Vitamin C and sugar compete for space because they are similar in chemical structure. Simply put by Holistic Health, “the more sugar in your system, the less Vitamin C can get into your white blood cells.” Unlike Vitamin C, sugar does not help your immune system fight of any infections. This means it will take you longer to recover from an infection if you consume a high amount of sugar. High sugar consumption can even cause infections. For example, yeast infections are the cause of too much sugar that then turns into too much yeast.  Focusing on your diet can cause lifelong benefits. Instead of medicating the symptoms, fix the heart of the problem. Pay attention to your body and what it needs, your body is your temple.


  • Dyer, O. (2005, December 15). Is Alzheimer’s really just type III diabetes? National Review of Medicine. Retrieved from http://
  • Goldenhar Syndrome. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Pepino, M. Y., Tiemann, C. D., Patterson, B. W., Wice, B. M., & Klien, S. (2013, April 30). Sucralose Affects Glycemic and Hormonal Responses to an Oral Glucose Load. Retrieved from
  • Humphries, P., Pretorius, E., & Naudé, H. (2008). Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62(4), 451-62. doi:
  • White, J. W., & Wolraich, M. (1995). Effect of sugar on behavior and mental performance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62(1) Retrieved from
  • Sugar’s Effect on Your Immune System. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Leight, Kristin, Elizabeth Fitelson, Christi Weston, and Katherine Wisner. “Childbirth and Mental Disorders.” International Review of Psychiatry 22.5 (2010): 453-71. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
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  • KayleighKayleigh Gilbert is a sophomore at Alaska Pacific University pursuing a degree in Counseling Psychology and a graduate of Chugiak High School, class of 2013. Kayleigh was born with Goldenhar Syndrome, which has resulted in her enduring countless surgeries from the time she was a year old to current day. Doctors do not know what causes Goldenhar Syndrome however, it is believed environmental factors may factor into the equation. Kayleigh’s mother, Laura, believes the tuna and processed foods she ate while pregnant with Kayleigh contributed towards the syndrome. Kayleigh is currently a pharmacy technician with Walgreens, but is also interested in holistic and homeopathic solutions. Because of Kayleigh’s extensive interaction with health care providers and medicine, she aspires to work in the health care field as well and wants to help children by providing them a diverse amount of options. Kayleigh recently wrote a literature review last semester on the similarities of diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease and is interested in the linkages between nutrition and health conditions.


  • Eric

    I’m not a psychologist and I’ve never heard of it berfoe, but I found a page that gives a bit of a definition and the origin of the term. I think your idea is on the right track, about a love-hate kind of relationship. I wouldn’t really call it a mental health problem, although it related to people’s behavior.Quoting from the page linked below:Tar Baby Syndrome is the way in which thrashing about in opposition to something keeps one attached to the source of the conflict. The idea is taken from the Joel Chandler Harris story in which Brer Rabbit, in his hubris and anger, punches and kicks at the Tar Baby, becoming increasingly stuck therein.One example that I can think of might be (and I emphasize the word might because this is just a guess) a situation in which a person stays closely involved with their ex-spouse in constant battle over their children as a subconscious way to remain involved with the person that they are still in love with.c.grinnell sounds like he got it right, what amounts to pouring money down a rathole just to save face Sticking to a faulty plan with claims that it just needs a little more tweaking in order to eventually make it better right when the honest thing to do would probably be just give it up and admit you were wrong.

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