The on-going question: Can sugar be blamed for aggressive behaviours and lack of attention?

The question of whether sugar sparks hyperactivity and other behaviour problems has been in the news for a long time.  More recently, opinions have been that the sugar link to ADHD type behaviours is a myth.  But now, a new study, reported by Unsplash/Public Domain, suggests that conditions such as aggression, attentional deficits and even bipolar disorder may be linked to sugar intake, and that it may have an evolutionary basis.

The research, out today from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and published in Evolution and Human Behavior, presents a hypothesis supporting a role for fructose, a component of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, and uric acid (a fructose metabolite), in increasing the risk for these behavioural disorders.

“We present evidence that fructose, by lowering energy in cells, triggers a foraging response similar to what occurs in starvation,” said lead author Richard Johnson, MD, professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

Johnson outlines research that shows a foraging response stimulates risk taking, impulsivity, novelty seeking, rapid decision making, and aggressiveness to aid the securing of food as a survival response. Overactivation of this process from excess sugar intake may cause impulsive behavior that could range from ADHD, to bipolar disorder or even aggression.

“While the fructose pathway was meant to aid survival, fructose intake has skyrocketed during the last century and may be in overdrive due to the high amounts of sugar that are in the current Western diet,” Johnson adds.

The paper looks at how excessive intake of fructose present in refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup may have a contributory role in the pathogenesis of behavioural disorders that are associated with obesity and Western diet.

Johnson notes, “We do not blame aggressive behaviour on sugar, but rather note that it may be one contributor.”

Johnson recommends further studies to investigate the role of sugar and uric acid, especially with new inhibitors of fructose metabolism on the horizon.

“The identification of fructose as a risk factor does not negate the importance of genetic, familial, physical, emotional and environmental factors that shape mental health,” he adds.

Even though this study does not identify sugar as being a major cause of unwelcome behaviours, perhaps the wisest decision would be to continue to limit children’s intake of sugars, including those found in so many processed foods.

 

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