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Title: Sugar - Does It Really Cause Hyperactivity in Children?

Category: Child Care

There are many myths about sugar consumption. In the 70's, sugar was blamed as a cause for almost every disease. The only direct link of all the diseases blamed on sugar is dental carries or cavities which is caused by tooth exposure to a large number of sugar containing foods. The real connection seems to be from sugar sticking to the teeth from lack of brushing or from taking a bottle at bedtime or from chewing sugar filled gum frequently. The best way to prevent this is to have children brush every night before bed and if possible, after meals and the intake of any sugary medicines, or gum or very sweet foods.

Another myth which was touted in the "70's" and "80's" but which is now being disproved is the connection between sugar and hyperactivity in children. Most studies today show that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a condition in which attention focusing ability is diminished and distractibility is increased.

In about one-third of the children with this condition, physical hyperactivity is also involved. In the past it was thought that the child's diet and intake of sugary foods was a major cause of this. Numerous studies are now disproving that theory, and, in fact, showing that for most children and adults, intake of carbohydrates and sugar actually has a calming effect.

A study published by Dr. Glinsmann in the Journal of Nutrition in 1986 clearly disproved any direct connection between sugar and hyperactivity. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also summarized numerous studies done by nutritionists, allergists, general pediatricians and other scientific groups looking at the connection of diet in general to hyperactivity and have not been able to make a strong connection except for a rare child who does have a true food allergy or sensitivity. These rare children fall in the 1% to 2% category and certainly not as a high percentage of children who have the problem of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.

Apparently, many of the children with ADHD inherit it directly from their parents as a biologic imbalance in the norepinephrine processing in the prefrontal baso-ganglia areas of the brain. This difference in metabolism of norepinephrine and focusing ability can be shown on PET scans and even shows a high correlation between children with marked ADHD and parents who seem to have had the same condition. The color changes in the baso-ganglia portion of the brain and frontal lobe areas is clearly different in color and glucose and norepinephrine uptake in comparison to the same color changes in people who do not have the condition. This is thought to be why Ritalin and other psycho-active medicines work to help children with ADHD. The theory is that it modulates the norepinephrine uptake to a more normal level thus helping the child to focus well and learn better and get through their school day better. This works for children who have ADHD with hyperactivity as well as children who have ADHD without hyperactivity. One caution in the use of Ritalin is that it will apparently help any child to focus their attention better to a certain degree whether they have ADHD or not; therefore, it is important that slight improvement after taking the medicine is not the only criteria used to make the diagnosis of ADHD. The child should be followed carefully for all of the classic signs and symptoms of ADHD such as changes in their focusing ability, changes in their distractibility, their impulsivity, their ability to stay on task and get through their school day or get through their homework, etc.

One danger in decreasing sugar substantially in the diet is that we tend to eat more fatty foods when we cut back on carbohydrates and sugar. This shift in diet may be harmful and may contribute to more obesity and heart disease in later life. Children, in general, need more sugar in their diet than adults in the range of 13% to 14% of their diet compared to 9% to 11% for adults. Because of this, we sometimes think that children are eating too much sugar but they are actually taking the amount that their body needs.

In summary, sugar does not cause very many diseases and normal sugar intake should be a normal part of everyone's diet. Certainly eating natural sugars such as that which comes in fruits, vegetables and starches is the ideal way to take in sugar but it is still OK to take in processed sugar in sweet foods in moderate amounts. There is no proof that this intake causes any diseases other than cavities when it is overdone and it does not seem to affect ADHD one way or the other.