Healthy Eating

The Effects of Sugar on Behavior and Mental Health

We’ve all seen it; give the kids some candy and before long they are bouncing off the walls on a ‘sugar high’. Sugar has long been blamed for hyperactivity in kids and there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that has made this a popular belief, but studies into the field have yet to produce a conclusive link between sugar and hyperactivity in children. What they have discovered is a plethora of even more disturbing influences on mental health and behavior that makes sugar public enemy number one.

No direct links between hyperactivity and sugar

Office BabeAs the risks of high sugar diets gain more attention, detractors are quick to point out that there are no conclusive links between sugar intake and hyperactivity, but that isn’t showing the whole picture. The rise in blood sugar levels that refined sugar produces has a number of cognitive and physiological symptoms which may be mistaken for hyperactivity.

Yale Researcher Dr. Wesnes conducted a study which showed that when children consumed large amounts of sugar for breakfast, they would experience a severe deterioration in attention span and the ability to focus; a trait which may lead some teachers and parents to think that children were hyperactive.

The Journal of Pediatrics (1995) featured an article by William Tamborlane, of Yale University which found a pronounced response to glucose load in children. You see, sugar causes your glucose levels to spike and then drop. As your blood glucose levels drop, your body releases adrenaline to compensate. When glucose levels fall below normal, hypoglycemia is experienced with symptoms of sweating, shakiness or light headedness and altered behavior.

Cute little children drinking milkThe study found that the adrenaline release occurs at much higher glucose levels in children than it does in adults. In children, adrenaline is released at blood sugar levels that would not be considered hypoglycemic which means children are far more susceptible to the effects of refined sugars.

When refined sugars and carbohydrates enter the bloodstream, they produce more rapid fluctuations in blood glucose levels in children and this is what results in behavioral changes.

How soda consumption affects aggression

The Effects of Sugar on Behavior and Mental Health 2Several studies have shown that when children and teens consume sodas high in refined sugar, they experienced a higher level of aggressive behavior. A 2011 study from the Injury Prevention journal found that when teens drank more than five cans of soda a week, they were more likely to engage in violence against peers and carry weapons.

Another study showed that soda consumption led to aggression, fighting, depression and feelings of hopelessness as well as suicidal tendencies.

Sugar impacts mental health

Studies by British psychiatric researcher Malcolm Peet discovered strong links between high sugar intake and the risk of both depression and schizophrenia. High sugar consumption results in the suppression of a key growth hormone in the brain known as BDNF. Low BDNF levels are found in patients that suffer from both depression and schizophrenia.

A September 2013, Credit Suisse Research Institute report studied the health consequence of sugar on Americans: “30%–40% of healthcare expenditures in the USA go to help address issues that are closely tied to the excess consumption of sugar.”

The consumption of sugar results in chemical reactions in the brain that cause chronic inflammation which disrupts immune system functioning.

When we consume large amounts of refined sugar, we cause a peak in our blood sugar level which will be followed by a trough which results in fatigue, light-headedness, irritability, sweating, insomnia, an inability to concentrate, loss of memory, depression and emotional responses, blurred vision, aggressive behavior, anxiety and digestive problems.