As the holiday season fast approaches, many parents of children with ADHD are beginning to feel that familiar dread, not necessarily because they don’t enjoy this festive season, but because it invariably means more sugar in the diet for their ADHD child. From bags of candy at Halloween to cookies and fudge treats around Christmas, sugar is everywhere during the Holidays, and for an ADHD child this almost always translates to a worsening of ADHD symptoms. But why does sugar seem to have this effect on an ADHD child, and what type sugar products are the most harmful? In this article we will address those questions in a bit more detail, but first let’s take a look at what ADHD is and the various factors that may cause it.
A Closer Look at ADHD in Children and What Causes It
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a neurological disorder that can lead to a number of problematic symptoms in children, but in terms of diagnosing the condition there are three main symptoms that doctors will typically look for: hyperactivity, inattention and impulsiveness. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all ADHD children are necessarily hyperactive and impulsive, nor does it mean that they are always inattentive. What it does mean is that children will show frequent symptoms from at least one of these general symptom groups—problems so severe that they affect a child’s normal ability to function.
The exact cause of ADHD in children is still not known, but researchers say there are several factors that may play a role in its development, including:
- Heredity. According to doctors, heredity seems to play a major role in the development of ADHD. Current estimates suggest that approximately 25% of all children with ADHD have at least one close relative who has also struggled with the disorder.
- Brain Abnormalities. Certain brain scans on children with ADHD show problems or an underdevelopment in the area of brain that controls attention and activity levels—two traits that ADHD tend to cope with on a regular basis.
- Environmental Causes. Certain environmental toxins have been linked to ADHD in a number of separate studies.
- Diet. An increasing amount of research has found a causal link between the food a child eats and the worsening of ADHD symptoms.
Sugar Intake and ADHD in Children
While there is no known cure for ADHD, doctors may suggest a number of treatment strategies to help children and their parents manage symptoms. This could include stimulant and non-stimulant medication, cognitive and behavioral therapy and lifestyle and dietary changes.
The proper diet for a child with ADHD must take into account the types of food a child should eat—including lean protein and plenty of fruits and vegetables—along with the types of foods that doctors say are contraindicated for an ADHD child. This “do not eat” list is fairly substantial, including artificial colors, salty snacks and unhealthy fat, but the substance that seems to be the most detrimental to an ADHD diet is sugar.
Sugar tends to rob the body of many essential vitamins and minerals, substances that are necessary for keeping blood sugar levels in the body stable. And when these blood sugar levels are wildly fluctuating due to too much sugar in the diet, the result, at least in an ADHD child, is an increased likelihood of hyperactivity.
Completely removing sugar from an ADHD child’s diet may not always be feasible; most products tend to contain at least some sugar. But parents can better manage their child’s symptoms by reducing the overall daily sugar intake. This means cutting out foods such as candy, sugary breakfast cereals, sweetened drinks and processed snacks; serving milk instead of fruit drinks and soda; and eliminating foods such as ice cream and pre-sweetened yogurt. Making these simple adjustments to a child’s diet will usually lessen the frequency and severity of a child’s problem behavior and will allow other treatments such as medication and therapy to be more effective.