Sugar and ADHD

Sugar and ADHD

Does sugar raise the risk of ADHD?

In a Yale study of healthy children without ADHD, blood levels of glucose and a variety of hormones and neurotransmitters were measured before and after a sugary drink (decaffeinated cola sweetened with glucose; equivalent to two 340ml cans of Coca-Cola).

These children were compared to a control group of children drinking a diet cola.

In the sweet cola group, the expected spike and drop in blood sugar occurred:  blood sugar rose from a fasting level of 83, to a peak of 135 after the cola, then to a valley of 61 about 4 hours after drinking the cola (values are in mg/dl). When blood sugar bottomed out, blood levels of epinephrine (aka adrenaline, our fight or flight hormone) skyrocketed to 10 times higher than they had been before the cola.

When this occurred, the children felt panicky—shaky and weak with a pounding heart.  These are the symptoms we typically associate with “hypoglycemia”, but they are actually due to the surge of fight or flight hormone produced by the body in reaction to falling blood sugar, not due to the low blood sugar itself.

These same researchers also studied the electrical activity of the brains of children as their blood sugar dropped.  They found that problems with brain activity could be seen as soon as the blood sugar dropped to below 75 mg/dl, getting worse as it fell even lower.


Sugar, ADHD and sleep

An interesting Australian study [Blunden 2011] examined the diets and sleep patterns of children with ADHD who were not taking medications.  Children with high-sugar diets were more likely to have disrupted sleep, most commonly breathing problems and night sweats.  Association does not equal causation, but given what we know about sugar and panic symptoms, this connection would make sense.


The bottom line about sugar

Studies of sugar itself, compared to artificial sweeteners, have not found a connection between sugar and ADHD.  However, wondering whether sugar per se is a culprit in ADHD may not be the right question to ask.

Since sugar and other refined and high glycemic index carbohydrates behave the same way in the body, it would make more sense to ask whether refined carbs, as a food group, increase risk for ADHD, and as of today there are no studies exploring this possibility.


However, here’s what we do know:

  • Refined carbs such as sugar put the brain and body on a hormonal roller coaster that can cause panic symptoms and brain dysfunction.
  • Diets high in refined carbs increase risk for insulin resistance, high insulin levels, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
  • Insulin can reduce dopamine levels in the brain.

It is hard to know what all of this means for people with ADHD.  However, it would make sense for everyone, including those with ADHD, to stay off of this hormonal roller coaster as much as possible.

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We strongly recommend a low or no sugar diet and to reduce refined carbohydrates to the minimum. The Manna Diet can help you to control blood sugar levels, because it is a low GI diet with restricted carbohydrates. We also recommend the Manna Blood Sugar Support supplement, because this supplement, when taken with food, helps to slow release the glucose from the food to the blood stream, preventing sugar spikes.

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