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Effects of Sugar Consumption on ADHD Symptoms

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Parents and doctors have debated the effect of sugar on children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. While parents claim that sugar has a negative impact on their hyperactive children, studies done by doctors have refuted that.

Even though children with ADHD have different brain chemistry, sugar does not interfere with their brain function. However, the overall recommendation is to limit the amount of sugar that the child consumes, both as a precaution and for dietary reasons.

Learning and Memory

In 1985, Dr. Mark Wolraich did a study on the effects of sugar intake on learning and memory. Parents of ADHD children worried that too much sugar not only affected their children's behavior, but interfered in their ability to perform in school. In Wolraich's study, sixteen hyperactive children were observed for three days in a hospital setting. During those days, the children's sugar levels were controlled; the results showed that sugar intake had no effect on an ADHD child's learning and memory. However, Dr. Anthony Kane, author of the article “The Role of Sugar in ADHD” notes that the small sample size and the short testing period leaves room for error in the study.

Parents' Perception

Many parents believe that their ADHD children becomes more hyperactive when they ingest sugar. In 1994, Dr. Richard Milich examined 31 hyperactive children whose parents believed were behaviorally sensitive to sugar. All of the children were given sugar-free drinks; however, half of their parents were told that the drinks contained sugar. The parents who thought their children had sugar stated that they were more hyperactive. Dr. Milich concluded that parental expectations and their subsequent behavior was their preconception that sugar resulted in hyperactivity.

Sugar Metabolism

However, although studies on sugar and ADHD have shown that there is not an effect on learning and memory or hyperactivity, another study questioned if ADHD children processed sugar differently. In a study by Langseth and Dowd, 74 percent of the 261 ADHD children they studied had an abnormal sugar metabolism. The result of an abnormal sugar metabolism was that after children ate a large amount of refined sugar, the pancreas released a lot of insulin. When the level of sugar reduced, epinephrine levels increased dramatically.

Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch received her bachelor’s of science degree in neuroscience from Trinity College in Hartford, CT in May 2009. She is the Hartford Women's Health Examiner and she writes about abuse on Suite 101.

Add a Comment3 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

This article stops dramatically short of explaining much of anything. The only thing I could find said that children with adhd have abnormal sugar metabolism, the pancreas released lots of insulin, and when the sugar level was reduced, epinephrine levels increased dramatically. I could find no citations about where this came from. I saw the study was done by Langseth and Dowd, but it doesn't say anything further. I am trying to research add and sugar in adults. This article shows promise, but I need more information. All the other contact links in the article aren't working. Help! Please contact me!

February 27, 2018 - 11:10am
HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hello Anon

This is an article reporting about a study, with the link as "parents and doctors" at the top. The author seems to have cancelled her personal web page and no longer contributes to EmpowHER. You will need to locate the study by the authors on your own. 



February 27, 2018 - 3:20pm
EmpowHER Guest

Hi My name is Adam Heyne and i am 15 and i am a kid with ADHD. If I have sugar I will be bouncing of the walls. :)

December 1, 2010 - 3:35pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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