When Orion Lyonesse is getting depressed, she turns into a hermit. She doesn't want to leave the house (not even to pick up the mail), and she cuts off contact with her friends and family.
"The more I'm alone, the deeper the depression gets," Lyonesse, an artist and writer in Lake Stevens, Wash., tells WebMD in an email. "I don't even want to cuddle my cats!"
Avoiding social contact is a common pattern you might notice when falling into depression. Some people skip activities they normally enjoy...
If either scenario fits, you're not alone. Many people crave carbohydrates -- especially cookies, candy, or ice cream -- when they feel upset, depressed, or tired.
"Carb craving is part of daily life," says Judith Wurtman, PhD, a former scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet. She and her husband, MIT professor Richard J. Wurtman, have long researched carbohydrates and their link to mood and depression.
The Wurtmans published a landmark article about carbs and depression in Scientific American in 1989. They are convinced that the carbohydrate craving is related to decreases in the feel-good hormone serotonin, which is marked by a decline in mood and concentration.
Other experts aren’t so sure. Some wonder if depressed mood and reaching for carbs are both related to an external event -- such as the stock market decline -- or to simply habit.
Carb cravings seem to be related to decreases in serotonin activity, says Wurtman.
"We discovered years and years ago that many people experience the 'universal carbohydrate craving time' between 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. every day," she says. "I suspect the tradition of English tea with its carb offering is a ritual developed to fill this need."
"It's a real neurochemical phenomenon," she says.
The Wurtmans’ work, however, has its skeptics.
Edward Abramson, PhD, a psychologist and professor emeritus at California State University, Chico, wrote the book Emotional Eating. He does not think the link is strong and clear-cut.
"You could be down because of loss of money in the stock market," he says. "The depression is triggered by an external event, not by [only] a dip in serotonin. It may be the external event causing the dip in serotonin, not the dip occurring, then the craving, he says.