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R. L. Cima, Ph.D.
The Sugar Lie is an excerpt from Part II of a series of articles titled Your Kids Aren’t Sick (Part I is published on this site). Part II is sub-titled Psychi-Babble: Psycho-Babbles Evil Twin, and it’s not quite done. For now, The Sugar Lie offers readers a glimpse of Part II and, once read, a way to bring about an immediate positive change for children and their parents.
Dr. Dean Edell started his radio broadcast in 1978. His common sense and clear answers earned him the accolades of millions of Americans. Dr. Dean retired in 2010. “No nonsense, no BS, no medi-babble" could have been his motto. Enjoy your retirement, Dr. Dean.
I was listening to him in the late seventies and early eighties when he would periodically tell his listeners there was no such thing as a sugar high. More than that, he implored his audience to pass this information around to others. I was surprised. How, I asked myself, could Dr. Dean be so wrong about this, and so right about most everything else?
At the time my wife and I were living with 8 boys ages 12-17 years old in a group home. They were active. We got them up in the morning, readied them for school, greeted them after school, helped them with chores, ate dinner with them, helped them with homework, and got them to bed. As professionals, and as surrogate parents, we stopped giving them sweets because we knew sweets added to their already too active behaviors, and we cared about these kids.
We knew about the behavioral power of sugar because we heard it from all of our sources at the time including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, therapists, teachers, teacher’s aides and other parents. My wife and I were parents with young children at the time. Like our friends and family who had young children, we all knew about the “sugar high,” the “sugar rush,” and, though less well known, the “sugar crash” - that’s what happens when sugar is depleted and all of the child’s energy is spent. The child “crashes.” We were informed parents and, as knowledgable child behaviorists, we were compelled to educate colleagues and the general public whenever we could.
Dr. Dean ruined all of that.
I did some homework, which was a lot more difficult back then. The internet wasn’t born yet. I was working towards my Master’s degree at Cal State Fullerton and I had access to their library. I used to study there before class, and from time to time I would research this question. To my utter dismay, I found out Dr. Dean was right. Conclusive. No kidding. No doubt. There was - and still is - no scientific evidence anywhere to support the idea that sugar has anything to do with increased activity - child or adult. There is no “high,” there is no “rush,” there is no “crash” either, even though those terms were so much part of our culture back then and, most distressing, still are.
I succumbed to this truth. I quickly converted, cleansed myself, and became a disciple. I felt obligated to pass this information on to friends, family and colleagues, as Dr. Dean suggested. Together we could help kill this myth, and get on with the task of helping children.
Not so fast there buddy. When I would tell people there’s no such thing as a sugar high, many would get mad at me, and the rest would ridicule me - as if I needed to modernize my thoughts. The same psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, therapists, teachers, teacher’s aides - and nearly all parents - refused to listen to this. This is still true, and it’s 2011.
Well informed mothers, fathers, caretakers and professionals are quick to point out they have watched children’s behavior become “manic” when too much sugar enters their blood streams. They’ve witnessed what is clearly a physiological effect with their own eyes and, way too often, their own ears. It’s obvious to anyone, they say without hesitation. Too much sugar “hypes” kids. So obvious that many parents dread birthday parties, Christmas cookies and, God-forbid, Halloween.
The simple reply is, respectfully, no, you didn’t see what you said you saw. You may have seen your child’s activity increase, but it didn’t have anything to do with sugar. You get madder still.
So, nowadays, in the 21st Century, I refer everyone to their own encyclopedia, the world wide web. Please, when you have an extra 20 minutes, take the time to Google, Yahoo, or Bing “sugar high” or “sugar rush.” See what you find. In the meantime, here are excerpts from five different sites I selected - there are many more - with their web addresses:
From The Straight Dope: In 1995 the Journal of the American Medical Association published a review of 23 comparatively rigorous studies conducted between 1982 and 1994. These were your classic controlled double-blind affairs: two groups of kids, one fed a bunch of sugar, the other given a placebo (i.e., artificial sweetener), everyone kept sufficiently in the dark as to who'd gotten what, etc. The results? No discernible relationship between sugar ingested and how the kids acted. It didn't matter how old they were, how much sugar they got, what their diets were like otherwise — nothing. The JAMA authors stopped shy of drawing any definitive conclusions, but if there were a legitimate sugar-high effect out there, you'd like to see it turn up in the lab every so often. (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2747/does-giving-sweets-to-kids-produce-a-sugar-rush)
From a nutritionist in Hawaii: It is not unusual, due to the misinformation that abounds out there in the public media (books, magazines, newspapers, word-of-mouth testimonials), to think that a 'sugar high' is a real thing. In some of the research that I have done with adolescents (almost 200 of them, at one time), we fed the boys as much sugar as we could cram into a breakfast, and not a one had a hormonal profile that suggested hypoglycemia; and, none of them experienced anything resembling a 'sugar high.' In fact, if you follow the biochemical pathway of sugar (glucose or sucrose) in the body, what it predicts is a calming effect of sugar, providing nothing else is eaten at the same time. (http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/2000-01/947564807.Me.r.html)
From a Yahoo source on Health and Wellness: Here's the big news. The scientific research that has been conducted not only finds no direct correlation between hyperactive activity and sugar, but actually has produced evidence that sugar may well have a palliative effect. (http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/515073 sugar_high_myth_or_reality_pg2.html?cat=5)
From a mother, at Daily Dose of Common Sense: My daughter had a birthday yesterday, and I had several well-wishers ask if she was bouncing off the walls because of sugar. Well, no, actually she was no more hyper yesterday than any other day. Yes, she ate a cupcake, Cracker Jack, Nerds, and a bunch of other junk, but she’s a healthy kid. That, and there’s no such thing as a “sugar high.” I know, it takes a second for it to sink in. We have been led to believe that sugar makes people (especially kids) hyper. But, it’s just not true. Our bodies do a really good job of regulating the sugar we intake. Many studies have been done on this topic and the conclusions are the same: the amount of sugar that a kid eats does not affect his or her level of activity. Jessie from Rational Moms did a great in-depth debunking of the sugar high myth. I highly recommend giving it a read. So, don’t worry about your kids being up all night after eating a bunch of sugar. They’re up late because they want to be up late. Duh. (http://www.dailydoseofcommonsense.com/2009/07/22/the-sugar-high-myth/)
Finally, and maybe you should go here first, this from Rational Moms: Even confronted with this evidence it can be difficult to believe. I’ve heard people grudgingly accept that it may not cause hyperactivity in children but insist that it causes rapid spikes and falls in blood sugar levels which create the feeling of the “Sugar Rush” and the “Sugar Crash.” . . . In this study all mothers identified their children as “sugar sensitive”. All the children were given a placebo (aspartame) but half of the mothers were told that their child was given a large amount of sugar. The mothers who thought their child was given sugar tended to stay physically closer to their child, criticized, looked at and talked to their children more then the parents who knew their children had the placebo. The mothers who thought their children ate sugar also rated their children as significantly more hyperactive than the control group. (http://www.rationalmoms.com/2008/12/01/the-myth-of-the-%E2%80%9Csugar-high%E2%80%9D/)
So, you’ve read the excerpts. More important, I hope you took some time to research this on your own. Good. Now you know for sure - a certainty - that there is no physiological sugar high, rush, or crash in human beings, and that includes little human beings. Not because I said it, or Dr. Dean said it, or those others you read on the web said it. But because, now, you say it. When it comes to behavior the unequivocal answer is no, children aren’t sugar sensitive, there isn’t a sugar high, a sugar rush, or a sugar crash - and there isn’t any wiggle room.
Why is this important? For a few reasons.
One. You and I - and everyone else convinced at one time or another that too much sugar causes children to be hyperactive - are mistaken. That includes your doctor, psychiatrist, teacher, aide, school psychologist, therapist, social worker, and any other professional you’ve relied on to make sure you are accurately informed.
Two. We become frantic when our children eat too much sugar, especially at the wrong time. Sometimes we even chastise the child because he - and it’s almost always he - doesn’t monitor his own sugar intake. After all, he should know by now that he has “ADHD” or an “imbalance” or “sensitivity” of some kind. He is, in a word, sick, and we’re just being cautious about his “condition.” We now know - you and I - this was never true. (By the way, maybe you know someone who has a very bright, 14 year old boy who has said on more than one occasion: “Sorry mom. I know I got hyper last night! I couldn’t stop! OK, OK, you were right! I had too much candy! Sorrreeeee!” Now you know for sure - and so does the 14 year old boy - it’s not the candy.)
Three. We can no longer place responsibility for a child’s behavior on this chemical because of a flaw in his body that was never there in the first place. This idea is going to become very important in Part II.
Four. We both now know our beliefs - even strong, heartfelt beliefs based on our care, our concern and our professional consultation - can alter our perceptions. Whoops, our bad. We need to make up for our mistake, and apologize to our children. You can still say he’s “too active,” however, you at least know now to eliminate sugar as a cause.
What's the big deal? Is it really that harmful - this false truth about children that we’ve kept alive for way too long? My goodness, parents are educated to believe their child is sensitive to sugar in the way a diabetic is sensitive to sugar. A range of informed professionals explain to parents in convincing detail - usually something about brain chemicals - that their child may be “sugar-sensitive,” or worse, may have a “psychological disease.”
And what do conscientious parents do with this information? They seek out a doctor for their child's medical condition. The doctor tells parents to monitor the child’s sugar intake, that much is obvious, and that maybe your child should take some medicine - usually Adderall or Ritalin or some other amphetamine - and your child’s disease is treated. Never fixed or cured - there are no fixes or cures available from these doctors - but medically treated.
Here’s an idea, if you have the gumption. The next time you have the opportunity, maybe in private, ask your child’s doctor, therapist, counselor, teacher or teacher’s aide if too much sugar causes children to engage in too much activity. If the teacher tells you it does, correct this common, misguided, and harmful answer. If the therapist persists, share your information and ask that it be checked out. If the doctor becomes frustrated trying to make you understand that you’re a layman, well, when you can, as politely as you think necessary, find another doctor. This one is woefully uninformed - and stuck in it - unlike you. Dr. Dean warned us decades ago that the most resistant to this information are informed professionals. Please, help them out.
Is there a physiological effect of taking in too much sugar? Sure there is. Ask anyone who substituted a pound of Sees candies or a quart of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for their dinner. When finished with their indulgence, they yearn to nap. In fact, an abundance of sugar does have a calming effect on human physiology, especially on an empty stomach. Also, sugar is often referred to as “empty calories,” and sweets certainly add to the obesity epidemic, not to mention the part it plays in tooth decay. And, as you already know, sugar certainly has a role in diabetes. (More about psychiatry’s dastardly psychi-babble use of diabetes in Part II).
You may guess my point about this. If we could both be so wrong about what we thought was so right, then are there other “truths” that need to be revealed as myths or comfortable conventions or false science? My goodness yes. Psychiatry is the biggest offender, as you will see in the upcoming article.
Finally, fellow convert, please help. To obliterate this harmful lie - and to make it right to all those kids we falsely accused and to ensure the next generation is accurately informed - we must be bold. When you’re at the check-out stand and you hear a stranger talk about “sugar high,” with a smile, ask them to “Google it.” When you’re at your PTA meeting and parents are concerned about all those “sugar snacks” the school is giving, make sure it’s because of calories and general health, and not because “sugar hypes kids.” Keep smiling, and educate them. And the next time you have a family reunion, deliberately bring this subject up so you can get into a friendly family argument and have it settled on the internet. You’ve just done a world of good for the kids in your family, and that’s always good for a smile.
Lest I forget, you can also forward this article to your friends, family members, doctors, teachers, therapists, neighbors - everyone. It’s 21st Century information. It’s not mine. It’s not Dr. Dean’s.
Now it’s yours. Make it someone else’s.
Let’s put the sugar lie to bed - for good.
Still to come - soon:
YOUR KIDS AREN'T SICK: TOWARDS THE DEATH OF PSYCHIATRY
PART II - Psychi-Babble: Psycho-Babbles Evil Twin
The sugar rush is real, but is difficult to quantify. Just because you cannot measure something accurately does not mean it does not exist. The real myth is that the original myth is wrong simply because it cannot be 100% confirmed. And yes, different people have different sensitivities. And High Fructose Corn syrup and Sucrose are not the same thing. There is much more research that can be done to discover how food is processed and used by the human body.
Just because you don't agree with something, that does not make it a lie.
Thank you Randy for such an informational article on the sugar rush. I work with children and have used this excuse before with concentration issues.....so now what is my excuse?? I did believe that sugar from a birthday party was to blame for the lack of con centration when my client came for a class and was "out of it"....I guess they just wished they were back at the party with their friends and not at my class!!
Lesson learned for me!!
An excellent article.
I wonder, if I could ask a favour. Could you perhaps steer me in the direction of a reference on anything published on the Sugar-Rush-Myth where a respected orthodox expert has credulously believed in this myth and then gone on to use it (with unintended irony) as an example of the need to be sceptical of counter knowledge of some other kind?
As you can see what I am after here is something very specific called a braced myth. See my website: dysology.org for a fuller definition of braced myths.
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About the Author
Randy L Cima
For 35 years, Dr. Cima was the CEO of several MH agencies for children in California. He is a vocal opponent of psychotropics for kids. In