Does Sugar Play a Role in ADHD? 

It’s a popular belief that refined sugar can cause or worsen symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. Ask any mother trying to stop her ADHD child from climbing the walls after eating a sugar-filled cupcake.  In a 1985 study, Dr. Mark Wolraich tried to disprove sugar as a cause of ADHD. 16 hyperactive boys were given 1.75 mk/kg of either a sucrose or a placebo drink at different times over the course of two days. The first day their learning was monitored with no substances given. After the three days, the test recorded no difference in behavior or learning with the boys. Critics argued that because the study was conducted in a hospital setting, results were unreliable and could not apply to the larger population of people with ADHD.

In another study, 35 children considered sugar-sensitive were given a sugar–free drink. Half the mothers were told the drink was sugar-free, only containing aspartame, a sugar substitute. The other mothers were told their child was given sugar. These mothers, in turn, were more critical of their childrens’ behavior, rating them as more hyperactive, compared to the mothers who were told their child did not receive any sugar.

Critics again argued the reliability of the study, stating that the subjective nature of the participant selection and the small sample size and duration lacked sufficient reliability of the testing outcomes, and therefore could not accurately apply to the general ADHD population.

Does sugar play a role in ADHD?

Here’s a simple test to figure out if sugar affects your child’s behavior:

 For one week, allow your child to consume sugar and watch his/her behavior.

 For the next week, remove the sugar from his/her diet.

 The following week, again allow him or her to again consume sugar.

 The next week, again remove the sugar.

Keep a written log for a total of four weeks.

What did you observe?

Remember that even if sugar does not directly impact your child’s behavior, it can

cause other health problems from tooth decay to increased risk of diabetes to

obesity. It may not be a bad idea to cut back on refined sugars all together.


The High Price of a Quick, Quick Fix (author) Dale Archer, M.D.

Effects of Sugar on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

About ADHD: National Mental Institute for Health