Does Sugar Cause Hyperactivity in Children?

Most often, stimulant medications and behavior therapy are used to treat the condition by mainstream medicine.

5 Ways Sugar Causes Hyperactivity and ADHD

For years, people have wondered if sugar could be to blame for ADHD. Scientific research hasn’t found sugar to be the sole cause of symptoms in a hyperactive child. In other words, children don’t get ADHD symptoms due to consuming sugar alone, and an ADHD elimination diet for kids that is free of sugar is unlikely to resolve the condition overnight. That said, there is some evidence to suggest that sugar may be detrimental for children who already have ADHD. There are several studies and theories on the subject, including:

1. High Glycemic Foods Cause Hyperactivity

Foods such as: fructose, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, donuts, bread, and instant oatmeal are high glycemic foods. These are foods that raise blood sugar rapidly.  Researchers have found that high glycemic foods can cause hyperactivity in children, and low glycemic foods help to reduce symptoms of ADHD. [1]

2. Foraging Instinct From Fructose Contributes to ADHD

One study published in Human Evolution and Behavior found that a type of sugar called fructose can reduce energy levels in body cells. The researchers observed that this caused the cells to shift into starvation mode and that this could trigger instincts to forage for food to ensure the body’s survival. This hyperactive foraging response causes symptoms of impulsivity, aggression, recklessness, and cravings, contributing to ADHD (as well as aggression and bipolar disorder). [2]

3. Sugar and Low Dopamine Exacerbates Hyperactivity

Low dopamine activity in the brain is a common finding in ADHD. [3] And sugar is known to release dopamine in the brain. [4] Medical research into addiction has revealed that individuals with low dopamine levels may be more prone to addiction, in this case sugar. In a study by Richard J. Johnson, MD, he hypothesizes that sugar significantly increases dopamine, which leads to reduced dopamine receptors and dopamine, exacerbating the low dopamine in ADHD and worsening the symptoms of hyperactivity. [5]

4. Sugar Contributes to Poor Impulse Control

Poor impulse control is a known symptom of ADHD. Researchers speculate that kids with the condition may be more likely to eat sugary foods in excess because they have trouble resisting the temptation to do so. Poor impulse control in ADHD may worsen the ADHD itself because of sugar leading to a vicious cycle.

5. Low Blood Sugar Can Lead to Poor Concentration and Inattentiveness

Sugary foods cause blood sugar levels to increase rapidly and then plummet quickly after digestion, leading to a sugar crash. The more someone eats sugar, the more it can impede the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels, and the more the individual craves sugar. As the individual eats more sugar, this cycle continues and can lead to low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar can lead to poor concentration, inattentiveness, confusion, nervousness, and irritability. These symptoms can add to the poor concentration and focus someone with ADHD often has to begin with, and may exacerbate other behaviors of ADHD.