Childhood ADHD and Sugar

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity. About 2.5% of adults and 5% of children suffer from ADHD. In adults, ADHD is associated with an increased likelihood of unemployment, frequent interpersonal conflicts, and weak performance at work. Children have difficulties in social relationships and at school. The impact of this disorder is significant because ADHD interferes with an individual’s functioning and development.

The notion that too much sugar is unhealthy for children is becoming more and more popular: scientists proved that sugar can lead to diabetes, obesity, and even behavioral problems. Professionals who work with children noticed a clear correlation between the use of sugar and behavioral problems. Parents noticed impairment in children’s conduct after eating or drinking products high in sugar.

However, this idea is still controversial. Even with scientific studies showing that consuming sugar can affect a child’s attention deficit, aggression, and hyperactivity, there are other studies that can’t seem to find a link.

The truth is that sugar itself doesn’t cause hyperactivity. It leads to biochemical responses that are in turn responsible for hyperactive behavior.

Valuable information on this subject comes from a high-quality study whose aim was to investigate a possible connection between diet and children’s behavior. The study didn’t just prove this link, it also reported significant improvement in behavioral symptoms after participants reduced consumption of sugar and wheat flour.

To make things worse, sweetened drinks can disrupt the natural balance between neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to neurological problems. Researchers believe that children with autism or ADHD suffer from an imbalance in neurotransmitters, and that consuming sweetened drinks can worsen the existing behavioral problems.

The symptoms that may occur after consuming sugar are variable, but typically include irritability, nervousness, sweating, tremors, confusion, anxiety, depression, and dizziness. Taken together, these symptoms may be easily interpreted as signs of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Consequently, doctors treat children with medication instead of adjusting their diet.

This can be avoided by first considering the diet of a child suspected of having ADHD. If parents conclude their child is consuming excessive amounts of sugar, they should reduce the child’s sugar intake and monitor his or her behavior in the following days. Just switching to a low-sugar diet is sometimes sufficient for reducing aggressiveness and irritability. However, this doesn’t exclude ADHD and the family should still consult a medical professional.

Health issues or not, it is a good idea for parents to reduce sugary foods and beverages from their children’s diet, or remove them altogether. Replacing sweets with fresh fruits, nuts, and yogurt is a healthy and tasty alternative. A balanced diet includes three main courses and 2-3 healthy snacks – such as fruits and rice cakes – in between.

Sugar has a negative impact on children’s behavior, especially for children with ADHD: it can make it hard to focus, as well as increase irritability and nervousness.

What does your child eat?