New research suggests that conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and even aggressive behaviours may be linked with sugar intake and that it may have an evolutionary basis.
The research, out today from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and published in Evolution and Human Behaviour, presents a hypothesis supporting a role for fructose, a component of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, and uric acid (a fructose metabolite), in increasing the risk for these behavioural disorders.
“We present evidence that fructose, by lowering energy in cells, triggers a foraging response similar to what occurs in starvation,” said lead author Richard Johnson, MD, professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
Overactivation of foraging may cause impulsive behaviour
Johnson outlines research that shows a foraging response stimulates risk-taking, impulsivity, novelty-seeking, rapid decision-making, and aggressiveness to aid the securing of food as a survival response.
Overactivation of this process from excess sugar intake may cause impulsive behaviour that could range from ADHD to bipolar disorder or even aggression. “While the fructose pathway was meant to aid survival, fructose intake has skyrocketed during the last century and may be in overdrive due to the high amounts of sugar that are in the current Western diet,” Johnson adds.
What is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Millions of children suffer from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which frequently lasts into adulthood. ADHD is characterised by a variety of enduring issues, such as trouble maintaining focus, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviour. Along with poor academic performance, problematic relationships, and low self-esteem, children with ADHD may also have these issues. Sometimes, symptoms get better as we mature. Some individuals, however, never fully outgrow their ADHD symptoms.
However, kids can pick up successful coping mechanisms. The most frequently identified mental illness in youngsters is ADHD. Compared to girls, boys are more likely to have it. When a youngster starts having attention issues, it is typically seen within the first few years of school. Symptoms of ADHD ADHD’s main characteristics are hyperactive-impulsive behaviours and inattention. Before the age of twelve, ADHD symptoms begin, and in some kids, they become apparent as early as age three. ADHD symptoms can range from mild to severe, and they can even persist into adulthood.
What is bipolar disorder?
Extreme mood swings, including emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression), are symptoms of bipolar illness, formerly known as manic depression. When you experience depression, you could feel melancholy or hopeless and stop enjoying or being interested in most activities.
You might experience mania or hypomania (a less severe form of mania), which can make you feel elated, energized, or particularly irritable. The ability to think clearly, energy levels, activity, judgment, and behaviour can all be impacted by these mood changes. Mood swing episodes can happen infrequently or repeatedly each year. While most people will have some emotional symptoms in between bouts, some people might not.
Sugar contributes to aggressive behaviour
The paper looks at how excessive intake of fructose present in refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup may have a contributory role in the pathogenesis of behavioural disorders that are associated with obesity and the Western diet.
Johnson notes, “We do not blame aggressive behaviour on sugar, but rather note that it may be one contributor.” Johnson recommends further studies to investigate the role of sugar and uric acid, especially with new inhibitors of fructose metabolism on the horizon. “The identification of fructose as a risk factor does not negate the importance of genetic, familial, physical, emotional, and environmental factors that shape mental health,” he adds.
Materials provided by University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Original written by Julia Milzer. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Richard J. Johnson, William L. Wilson, Sondra T. Bland, Miguel A. Lanaspa. Fructose and uric acid as drivers of a hyperactive foraging response: A clue to behavioral disorders associated with impulsivity or mania? Evolution and Human Behavior, 2020; DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2020.09.006
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “Could excessive sugar intake contribute to aggressive behaviors, ADHD, bipolar disorder? New peer-review paper looks at evolution and current Western diet to help explain manic behaviors.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 October 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201016112903.htm>.
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