Blood Sugar and your Mental Health

Blood Sugar Imbalance and its Impact on your Mental Health

roller coaster

Riding the blood sugar roller coaster day after day can impact your mental health.  The highs followed by crashes may accentuate the symptoms of a mood disorder.  Research has tied processed, refined sugar consumption to an increased risk of depression and can worsen the outcomes of schizophrenia. 

Blood sugar in the form of glucose is the basic fuel for all brain operation and activity.  If it is inadequate, mental health systems can start to shut down.  Glandular imbalances will result as the glands struggle to regulate the sugar level. This can cause symptoms such as high adrenaline which can look like anxiety, panic attacks or violence. 

Just by making tweaks to your diet you can improve your blood sugar regulation and your mental health.

The Impact of Blood Sugar Dysregulation on our Mental Health

By now, most of know that sugar and processed foods are bad for our heart, cholesterol and waistline.  But not as much attention is giving to what it does to our brain. 

Here is what Happens

bread pasta rice

  1. You eat a meal or have a drink with excess sugar. Say you start your day with a bagel, muffin or donut, or have cereal with milk, banana and some OJ.
  2. The pancreas releases insulin to bring glucose to the cells but because of the high amount of sugar, the insulin response is excessive
  3. About 2 hours later so much sugar has been put into storage that you now have low blood sugar and are feeling weak, shaky, brain fog, fatigue, change in mood (depression) and cravings
  4. The body responds to this as an emergency so it dumps adrenaline into the system. This causes anxiety, racing heart, irritability, anxiousness, panic, outbursts and more
  5. You reach for a processed carb or sugar product to get your sugar levels back up. Thus, the cycle begins again.

This cycle contributes to chronic inflammation in the body.  Chronic inflammation is not only associated with physical health conditions such as heart disease but also with brain function such as depression and brain fog. 

A surge of adrenaline is not always a bad thing. In prehistoric times if you were being chased by a wild animal you got a surge of adrenaline to run away.  Adrenaline prepares you for vigorous muscular activity.  It raises your heart rate and turns off digestion so now you are prepared for fight or flight.  In modern society it is not the wild animal that raises our adrenaline but instead the constant demands we put on our body such as stress from our processed, nutrient deficient, highly processed diet.

   Symptoms of Imbalanced Blood Sugar (highs and lows)

  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Abnormal weight (too high or too low)
  • waking after 2-3 hours of sleep at night and cannot fall right back to sleep
  • Dizziness
  • headaches
  • irritability if meals are missed
  • nervous habits
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • phobias
  • violent outbursts
  • Unable to concentrate (ADD)
  • Anti-social behavior
  • Crying spells
  • Nightmares
  • confusion
  • tightness in chest
  • constant hunger
  • tremors
  • obsessive compulsive behavior
  • poor word finding ability
  • brain fog
  • blurred vision
  • insomnia
  • cravings for sugar, sweets, soda, coffee, alcohol, refined carbs
  • fainting
  • cannot tolerate bright lights or loud sounds
  • joint pain
  • no appetite at breakfast, may wakeup feeling nauseous, skip breakfast
  • highs and lows/mood swings within a one day period


What Causes Blood Sugar Dysregulation (in addition to diet)

fast food burger

  • Standard American diet
  • Inadequate physical activity
  • Irregular eating patterns
  • Skipping meals
  • Eating imbalanced meals (meals with mostly refined carbs and little in the way of quality protein/fats)
  • Refined carbs (bagels, pasta, muffins, cookies, pastries, donuts, bread, rolls, etc.)
  • Gluten intolerance and other food allergies/insensitivities
  • Excess caffeine intake
  • Alcoholism
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Thyroid disorder
  • Stress
  • Excess blood sugar lowering medication
  • Insulin resistance
  • Birth control pills
  • Fructose

Physical Symptoms of Blood Sugar Imbalance

  • Darkened skin along jawline or neck (this occurs due to elevated insulin levels present with elevated blood sugar)
  • Extra abdominal fat-this can include fat on back, chest, sides of waist and shoulder blade area
  • Base of neck fat pad-this fat tends to be very inflammatory
  • Enlarged breasts in men (elevated blood sugar in men stimulates activity of enzymes that shifts testosterone to estrogen which promotes growth of breast tissue)
  • Note: you may not always see these physical signs

How to Balance Blood Sugar

balanced meal

Some foods that will help to balance blood sugar include almonds (very filling), quinoa (great substitute for rice), millet (it has a combination of fiber and phytonutrients), hummus (protein packed), avocado (filled with healthy fat), lentils (good source of protein) and walnuts (make a great snack with omega 3’s).

Consume foods that release energy slowly into the blood stream such as vegetables, berries, and nuts and seeds.


Treatment of blood sugar imbalances involves a combination of dietary and lifestyle measures that minimize the shock to the pancreas and the adrenal glands and stabilize carbohydrate metabolism.  It is better to address it now because highs and lows in blood sugar will eventually lead to highs only (meaning diabetes and insulin resistance)

  • Decrease the consumption of simple carbs and sugars, caffeine, alcohol,
  • Eat three meals per day and at least 2 additional snacks. DO NOT SKIP MEALS (once you have balance blood sugar then you can try intermittent fasting)
  • Provide a balance at each meal/snack of protein, complex carbs, healthy fats and fiber.
  • Eat foods closer to the form they are found in nature.
  • This can look like:

o   a protein smoothie with avocado and greens included for breakfast (skip the fruit or add in berries or ½ a banana)

o   snack on handful of almonds mid-morning

o   for lunch have chicken salad on a bed of lettuce (if you must have bread, opt for one slice only) with a Bubbies pickle and a side salad

o   mid-day snack on raw vegetables and hummus

o   for dinner have salmon, roasted sweet potato and a vegetable such as asparagus, broccoli or cauliflower. 

o   AVOID packages foods, sugary foods, artificially sweetened foods and drinks, refined carbs such as pasta and bread, white rice, dried fruits such as banana or apple chips and processed corn products



  Beneficial Nutrients

  • Protein: it is used to mitigate the symptoms of hypoglycemia because it can keep sugar stable while keeping metabolism high. Protein takes longer to be digested than simple carbs and this will prevent sudden drops and spikes in blood sugar levels.  The glucose from digested protein (and from complex carbs is released into the bloodstream gradually which helps to regulate blood glucose levels.)  Consume 2-4 ounces of animal protein or 4-6 ounces of plant protein at each meal. For snacks reduce the amount to half.  Protein amounts at breakfast can be slightly increased.  High quality sources of protein include grass fed meats, wild caught fish, bean/legumes and raw dairy. 
  • Cobalamin (B12): along with other B vitamins helps to convert consumed foods into glucose that can be utilized by the body.  Thus, a B12 deficiency can result in low blood sugar levels. Eating foods rich in B12 will help to increase energy levels by converting food into glucose.  In supplement form take 300 mcg. 3 times daily on an empty stomach.  Best forms include methylcobalamin, adenosycobalamin and hydroxocobalamin.  Most B complexes do not contain enough B12 so it is best to take an additional B12 supplement. Food sources include grass fed beef, lamb, chicken, wild game, organ meats, grass fed milk, cottage cheese and fish/shellfish.
  • Niacin (B3): It is needed to produce insulin.  It helps to promote proper digestion by helping with the production of stomach acid used in the metabolism of carbs.  It can also be useful for treating depression and anxiety associated with hypoglycemia.  Niacin will cause a “flush” within minutes of ingesting.  Food sources include fish, meats, peanuts, whole grains mushrooms, seeds, eggs and almonds. Supplement form take 100 mg. 2 timers per day with meals.  Check with your doctor. before taking, as it can interact with some medications.


Bottom Line:

just because you do not have diabetes does not mean you are safe from blood sugar ups and downs.  Balance your blood sugar by eating protein and fat along with your complex carbs.  Don’t skip meals and opt for a diet of 80% whole foods and 20% of your processed, junk food.  If you are suffering from any mental health disorder, this is a simple step to take. 



  6. Golan, R. (1995) Optimal Wellness. New York: Ballantine Books.



If you are sick and tired of feeling sick, tired, fatigued, depressed, anxious and more and have given up hope then Karen’s simple, effective, individualized and sustainable approach may be what you need. 

Karen Brennan, MSW, CNC, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition and Herbalist is the author of Tru Foods Depression Free Nutrition Guide; How Food Supplements and herbs can be used to lift your mood and owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services, LLC. 

For more information visit

Get her Food Swap Guide here to get started on your health journey today! Want more information, like her fb page here

As a nutrition professional, Karen does not treat, cure nor diagnose. This information is for educational purposes only.

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Adaptogenic Herbs for Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Fatigue and Immune Support


Adaptogens for a Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Fatigue and Immune Support


What are Adaptogens

Adaptogenic herbs are herbs that allow the body to adjust to stress.  It essentially helps you resist the stress, whether it be physical or a biological response. For example, adaptogens can be useful for those coping with daily work stress, anxiety or depression, stress from training/long bouts of exercise or the stress placed on the body during injury, healing and surgery. 

They can enhance the body’s natural response, and help balance the body.  Some of these herbs can have a strengthening effect on the adrenal glands.  This is important because the herb can have the action of relieving stress. 

These herbs can affect the brain, nerves, endocrine glands, and the immune system by helping re-regulate, normalize and enhance function.  There are multiple theories as to what is occurring and even scientists are unsure of how these substances work.

Adaptogenic Herbs  for Stress and Mood Support

As you will see from the list below, you can kill two birds or more with one herb meaning you may be able to choose one herb to address your depression, fatigue and immune system.  While medications often have one purpose, herbs can be used for many different conditions and ailments. 

There are many supportive Adaptogenic herbs; this is a short list of some of the more well-known herbs.  For anxiety and depression, a class of herbs called nervines can also be very useful. 

Check with your doctor prior to adding in any herbs to your regimen as herbs can interact with medications. 

What You Should Know About Herbs Before You Make a Purchase

tincutre bottles

Always start with one herb at a time.  It is best to do this rather than buy a blend.  Often the blends have lower doses of each herb or have extra ingredients you may not need.  Also, if you have a reaction to the product you won’t know which herb it was.  Start low and slow.  Work up to the amounts mentioned. 

Adaptogens are best used for 12 weeks and then take a 2-week break or switch to a different adaptogen, as your body can adapt to the herb over time, thus reducing its effectiveness for you.  We all react differently to herbs so it may take a few tries to find the right herb for you and your health concern. 

Purchase a reliable product.  Many cheaper or store brand herbal products have been found to not contain the amount stated on the label and in other instances they do not contain the correct parts of the herb. For instance, if you are going to use Rhodiola, you want a product that uses the root, not other plant parts. Brands that I like include Gaia herbs, Herb Pharm, and Bayan Botanicals.  I’m sure there are other high quality brands but it pays to do some research first.  The dropper on a one ounce tincture bottle is equal to 30 drops.  This way you don’t have to constantly count drops!

Don’t rely on just herbs. If your body is under a great deal of stress, support the body with whole nutrient dense foods as well.  While an herb can do wonders, it needs the support of a nutrient rich diet too. 

All the herbs or supplements in the world won’t help you if you continue to “eat like crap”. 

Adaptogens for Depression

Since herbs can have a direct effect on the nervous system they can enhance mood

  • Asian ginseng root (less frequently leaf): This is one of the most studied herbs in the world. It is considered one of the most stimulating herbs.  For this reason, it makes a great herb for those who are exhausted.  Use it for insomnia, fatigue and depression.  Tincture: take 20-40 drops up to 3x per day.  Capsule: powdered herb take 2 400-500 mg. caps 2-3x per day. For powdered extract take one capsule of 400-500 mg. 2 times per day.  Start out with a lower dose and work up to the 400-500 milligram dose as for some people who have anxiety or insomnia this herb may be too stimulating.  Speak with your doctor first if you are taking warfarin, MAOI antidepressants, or blood sugar medications. 
  • Holy basil plant (Tulsi): Use of holy basil can prevent increased corticosteroid levels that indicate elevated stress levels. It can be used as a “natural antidepressant” for situational depression such as coping with a traumatic event such as death of a loved one.  Tincture: 40-60 drops 3 times per day.  Tea: add 1 tsp. of dried leaf to 8 oz. of hot water. Let it steep for 5-10 minutes. For therapeutic benefits, drink the tea up to 3 times per day. 
  • Rhodiola root: This herb is known to enhance energy, improve alertness, reduce fatigue and improve depression. It can be a good herb to use also for ADHD and for someone who is recovering from a head injury.  It can support someone who has a depleted immune system due to chemotherapy, radiation or from excessive physical training.  It can be useful for someone suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.  Tincture: 40-60 drops 3x per day.  Avoid Rhodiola if you have bipolar, or are paranoid.  From some it can cause insomnia. 

Adaptogens For Anxiety

Adaptogenic herbs, because of their effect on the nervous system, can relive stress and anxiety

  • Ashwagandha root: This is one of my personal favorite herbs. This is a calming adaptogen and is also useful for stimulating the thyroid gland. It is useful for anxiety, fatigue and stress induced insomnia.  Avoid this herb if you are sensitive to nightshade plants as this herb is in the nightshade family.  Do not use it if you have hyperthyroidism.  It can increase the effects of barbiturates. Tincture take 30 drops 3-4 times per day, as capsule take 400-500 mg. twice a day. 
  • Schisandra (fruit and seed): This herb is calming and can aid in stress induced asthma or stressed induced palpitations. . It can provide a feeling of alertness without the stimulating effects that you would get from caffeine.    It also supports the immune system. (People who suffer from acute and chronic stress can have a weakened immune system).  Tincture: 40-80 drops 3-4 times per day.  Capsules: 1-2 400-500 mg caps, 2-3 times per day. Do not take if using barbiturates. 

For Fatigue


  • American ginseng (root and less often leaf): This can be useful for those with mild to moderate adrenal fatigue. It can also be useful to reduce symptoms of jet lag. Tincture: 60-100 drops 3 times per day. Capsule: 2, 500 mg. caps 2 times per day.  Do not use if taking warfarin.
  • Ashwagandha: see information under anxiety
  • Asian ginseng: see information under depression
  • Eleuthero root and stem bark: This is a mild herb and thus good for the young and the old. It is unlikely that it will cause overstimulation and this is an herb that can be taken long term.  It strengthens the immune system and provides stamina.  You can use it when under a great deal of stress at work. It can help improve alertness and cognitive function when dealing with work related stress.  Tincture: 60-100 drops 3-4 times per day.  Do not use with cardiac medications
  • Shatavari root: this is a good herb to try for fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, and to support the immune system. It is also considered a nutritive tonic.  It is also a diuretic.  Tincture: 40-80 drops 3 times per day.  Avoid if you have diarrhea and bloating. 

For Immune support

Stress weakens our immune system.  Adaptogenic herbs can help strengthen the immune system and improve the immune response.

  • Eleuthero: see information under fatigue
  • Holy basil: see information under depression
  • Rhodiola: see information under depression
  • Shatavari: see information under fatigue
  • Schisandra: see information under anxiety


Bottom Line

Choose an herb that can address more than one issue you are having.  Start out with one herb only and start out low and slow. Seek guidance from your holistic health professional or doctor before adding in herbs to your regimen.  When adding in herbs, give it time.  Support the body with a whole foods diet too. 


Balch, P. ( 2012)   Prescription for Herbal Healing.  2nd Edition.  NY: Avery Publishing

Cech, R. (2016) Making Plant Medicine.  Oregon: Herbal Reads

Gaby, A.(2006) The Natural Pharmacy. Revised and updated 3rd edition.  NY: Three Rivers Press

Hoffman, D. Medical Herbalism. (2003) The science and practice of herbal medicine.  VT: Healing Arts   


Mars, B. (2007) The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine.  CA: Basic Health Publications

Moore, M. (1996) Herbal Tinctures in Clinical Practice.  3rd Edition.   AZ: SW School of botanical Medicine

Skenderi, G. (2003) Herbal Vade Mecum. NJ: Herbacy Press

Winston, D. & Maimes, S.(2007) Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief.  VT: Healing

   Arts Press.



If you are sick and tired of feeling sick, tired, fatigued, depressed, anxious and more and have given up hope then Karen’s simple, effective, individualized and sustainable approach may be what you need. 

Karen Brennan, MSW, CNC, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition and Herbalist is the author of Tru Foods Depression Free Nutrition Guide; How Food Supplements and herbs can be used to lift your mood and owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services, LLC. 

For more information visit

Get her Food Swap Guide here to get started on your health journey today! Want more information, like her fb page here

As a nutrition professional, Karen does not treat, cure nor diagnose. This information is for educational purposes only.

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