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Low Sugar Diets

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Much debate surrounds the effectiveness of low sugar diets to reduce the symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Most clinically controlled studies of sugar consumption in ADD/ADHD children have failed to demonstrate a causal relationship between sugar-intake and hyperactivity. Not only do children with ADHD typically eat no more sugar than average, but adding sugar or sweets to the diet of a hyperactive child has also failed to aggravate hyperkinesis compared to control foods sweetened by aspartame.


Despite this, low sugar diets are still commonly used to treat children with ADHD. There are several reasons for this, as follows:

  • Inconsistent Research Findings - Some clinical trials of low-sugar diets have reduced hyperactivity symptoms. For example, some ADHD-diagnosed children have shown improvements when following a relatively high-protein, low-refined-carbohydrate, sugar-free diet. Benefits include a calming effect and improved learning.

  • Diets Rich in Refined Carbohydrate Increase Need For Thiamine - The body needs thiamine to help with the metabolism of refined carbs. A high-sugar diet may therefore deplete reserves of thiamine. Inadequate levels of thiamine are known to trigger behavioral changes in some children and adults.

  • Some Hyperactive Patients Have Difficulty With Glucose Metabolism - A diet which contains too many refined carbohydrates can cause chromium deficiency in some hyperactive patients. And lack of chromium may lead to decreased effectiveness in controlling blood glucose levels. At least one study has demonstrated that hyperinsulinism with low blood sugar may be a causal factor for aggressive behavior in ADHD patients. Thus screening for dysinsulinism with a glucose/insulin tolerance test may be indicated, especially in cases of family history of glucose intolerance and/or type 2 diabetes.

  • Overconsumption of Refined Carbohydrates Associated With Bad Nutrition - High-sugar diets rich in refined carbohydrates are typically associated with poor nutrition (eg. inadequate intake of vitamins and minerals), as well as low consumption of dietary fiber. Such a dietary profile may be an independent risk factor for certain symptoms of hyperactivity.


Low Sugar Diets

Although it appears from several studies that sugar intake is not a prime cause of ADD or ADHD, there are some hyperactive children for whom hypoglycemia and/or dysinsulinemia play a critical role. A glucose-insulin tolerance test may help to identify these children. Furthermore, the negative health consequences of a diet high in non-nutritious or "empty" calories may contribute to the nutritional deficiencies commonly seen in ADD/ADHD patients.