Steady blood sugar levels are essential for an ADHD diet. Hyperactivity and anxiety can be direct causes of a sudden rise in blood sugar. Sudden drops in blood sugar can result in a sluggish feeling, crankiness and the inability to focus. Anyone suffering from erratic blood sugar levels will experience negative effects on mood and executive functioning along with a wealth of additional health problems.

Too Many Carbohydrates Can Cause Irregular Blood Sugar Levels

The body converts carbohydrates into usable energy in the form of glucose. This is the body’s short term energy source. If glucose levels aren’t kept balanced and healthy, the body can start to experience severe issues. As a result, the body has a mechanism that prevents a sudden rise or fall in blood sugar levels. When too many carbohydrates are consumed, the pancreas must produce insulin to avoid a rise in blood sugar levels. This helps to maintain metabolic homeostasis.

Excess sugar is then stored in the form of glycogen, in the liver and muscles. If carbohydrates are constantly over-consumed, these cells become extremely full.

Children with ADHD need to have a balanced diet and this requires regular meals. Dieting, skipping meals, fasting or missing out on the right balance of high quality proteins and carbohydrates can cause a drop in sugar levels. In this case, the pancreas must work to produce more glucose by producing glucagon. Glucagon transports glycogen from the liver cells and muscles and converts it back into glucose to ensure enough energy is available.

Of course this process doesn’t always run smoothly, especially when there is not enough stored glycogen. In this case, the body will have a stress response and activate the adrenal cortex which in turn produces Cortisol and Adrenaline. In an attempt to create more energy in this sudden “emergency” situation, the hormones produced will facilitate the conversion of proteins and fats into glucose. The sudden use of the body’s protein stores can impair muscle building and of course maintenance of bone, skin, hair and other tissues. For people suffering ADHD, this can trigger negative symptoms such as blurred thinking, hyperactivity, inattention, forgetfulness and more.

Irregular blood sugar levels can negatively affect health and mood in the following ways:

  • Frustration
  • Hyperactivity
  • Food cravings
  • Loss of muscle
  • Mood swings
  • Nerve damage
  • Slowed metabolism
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Shaking
  • Irregular body temperature
  • Feeling sluggish and tired

What Scientists Have Learned About Sugar Consumption:

Scientists at the University of Colorado believe that consuming sugar regularly can result in long-term problems for the brain. It is believed that removing sugar from the diet won’t be able to change this. Theoretically speaking, it is possible for sugar to bring about changes in the brain’s chemistry that result in ADHD. However, there aren’t any studies to prove this as yet. The scientists at University of Colorado have the following beliefs:

1. Dopamine release is triggered by sugar consumption. Dopamine is thought to have a very strong tie to ADHD. When sugar is consumed, the brain cells are flooded with dopamine and the person feels good.  This often leads to food cravings and over eating.

2. The brain then builds up a tolerance to the dopamine and will keep trying to bring dopamine activity back to normal. This is done by reducing the number of receptors, resulting in a tolerance which leads to even more over eating and cravings.

3. Continuous intake of sugar can result in brain cells running low on dopamine as a result of over stimulation. Low dopamine activity is one of the possible causes of ADHD symptoms.  This vicious cycle may also lead to binge eating and sugar addiction.

ADHD And Obesity

It is often found that children with ADHD are more likely to be overweight or obese. Parents and industry professionals have often asked questions pertaining to the cause. Is it ADHD that causes overeating and obesity or it is overeating and obesity that causes ADHD? A German epidemiological study uncovered the following:

“…children with ADHD more often endorsed ‘‘lost control over eating’’ and ‘‘food dominates life’’ than their peers without ADHD…”. This is regardless of their body weight. (Erhart 2012)

The Bottom Line About Sugar

Studies carried out on sugar have not returned any results that find a connection between sugar and ADHD. It is suggested that, wondering if sugar is a cause of ADHD might not be the right question to ask, since sugar and refined high glycaemic index carbohydrates behave much the same way in the body. Appropriately, one should rather question whether refined carbohydrates increase the risk for ADHD. Unfortunately there are currently no studies that explore this particular possibility.

This is what we know about sugar:

  • Refined carbohydrates, including sugar, put the brain and body on a hormonal roller coaster. This fluctuation can result in brain dysfunction and panic symptoms.
  • Diets that are high in refined carbohydrates increase the potential for insulin resistance, high insulin levels, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
  • The brain’s dopamine levels can be reduced by the presence of insulin.

It can be difficult to translate what this means for ADHD sufferers. It is however best for those with ADHD to avoid the hormonal fluctuations that come along with excess sugar intake.