Can sugar shift your mood?

Are ‘sugar rushes’ real? Get the facts on your sugar intake, and how it’s linked to Diabetes. 

Can sugar really put you in a better mood?

Do we really experience ‘sugar rushes’?

Your brain doesn’t recognise sugar. It recognises dopamine: a pleasure reward from your brain to your body. Dopamine release is strongly associated with addictions, like narcotics or tobacco products. Sugar also triggers the release of dopamine. Sugar is considered a highly addictive substance in many countries.

You know the feeling: you snap your favourite chocolate bar between your teeth and wait for the ‘high’ to begin. You think it’s the sugar rush you need, but soon after biting into that chocolatey goodness, you start to feel worse than before. The steep decline of our energy is what creates the illusion that we were ever receiving a boost. Sugar is actually responsible for fatigue, reduced alertness and lack of concentration.

Busting the sugar rush myth

Universities in Warwick, Berlin and Lancaster collected data across 31 published studies. All studies found that sugar has no direct positive effect on mood. Instead, all converged upon similar findings that sugar induces fatigue and concentration issues, 30-60 minutes after consumption. Quantities and types of sugars were tested across several of the studies. It was found that only the amount of time varied, until energy depletion became evident in participants. These studies propose that the ‘sugar rush’ is a myth, a placebo-effect of conscious sugar intake.

The placebo effect

Placebos are a delicate subject in the medical world. Some doctors support the use of these, while others strongly advise against them, because they believe it enables bad habits or dependencies. A placebo is considered a mental illusion. The most common use for one is when a patient has convinced himself/herself that a dose of medicine is required in order to produce a particular result.

The convincing happens through a deep-rooted mental or emotional phenomenon, and it’s almost impossible to reason with someone, leading to placebos being used. It’s like a little cheat, where a person is given something like a Vitamin C tablet instead of the Schedule 5 painkiller they believe is needed in order to feel better. Because the mind is satisfied that the appropriate remedy was applied, the anxieties associated with not receiving it are completely removed. Rehabilitation centres often use placebos when weaning people off other addictive substances.

Sugar is considered just the same as other addictive substances. For Diabetics, coping with sugar addiction can be a huge uphill battle. Diabetics can get caught in a downward spiral of choosing the wrong items to depend on for quick boosts of energy. It happens often based on the assumption that a ‘sugar rush’ is needed. You create your own mental illusion that without consuming sugar, you won’t be able to endure the next hour or two of your day.

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Overcoming cravings

The placebo effect, like all craving situations, can be dangerous. It creates a false dependency on harmful sugars that lead to Diabetes to begin with. To overcome it, the first thing you need to do is notice when you crave something sweet or starchy. Once you identify that feeling, you can question your appetite.

Think about when last you ate something, and whether it was low GI. Try to confront your craving by questioning whether you’re just thirsty. It’s always highly recommended that Diabetics carry a suitable water bottle with them throughout the day.

Set yourself a series of steps to go through, like a checklist. It will create hurdles for your mind to overcome, and make it harder to come up with excuses. Each step in the process will help you reason with the thoughts that are trying to control your actions toward consuming more sugar.

Spread the word!

Part of living with Diabetes is sharing the information you learn. We encourage you to share this article with your loved ones, especially other Diabetic friends and family. If we make an effort to talk about important things like this with our friends and families, we can improve everyone’s health together.


Mantantzis, K, Schlaghecken, F, Sünram-Lea, SI, and Maylor, EA. 2019. The ‘sugar rush’ myth: it actually lowers alertness and increases fatigue. Medical Brief. 10 April. Available at: [Accessed 6 August 2019].

South African Medical Research Council. 2017. Obesity and diabetes in Africa on the rise. 5 June. Available at: [Accessed 6 August 2019].

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