The possible role of sugar in ADHD-type behaviours

Over the past couple of decades, Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) has closely followed research on the possible role sugar plays in ADHD-type behaviours.  The findings over the years began to convince us that sugar is not a huge no-no as far as children is concerned.  While an overdose of sugary foods, typically due to a birthday party, might cause a child to become overactive and emotional, sugar was not seen as THE cause of continual challenging behaviours.

Now a new study has been released showing that high intake of sugar may, after all, be part of the causes of several disorders with behaviour symptoms.

The research, out today from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and published in Evolution and Human Behavior, shows evidence that fructose, a component of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, and uric acid (derived from fructose) increases the risk of challenging behaviours.

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.

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 behaviour 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. Excessive intake of fructose is due to the high amounts of refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup in the Western diet.

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

The full title of the publication is “Fructose and uric acid as drivers of a hyperactive foraging response: A clue to behavioral disorders associated with impulsivity or mania?” by Richard J. Johnson, William L. Wilson, Sondra T. Bland, Miguel A. Lanaspa.  Published in ‘Evolution and Human Behavior’.

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