Posts Tagged ‘sugar’

ADHD and Sugar Research: Part 1 – Junk Science

June 12, 2012

The things which qualify me to speak on the impact of Sugar on people with ADHD are multiple.  First of all is my education which is on parity with most of the researchers on both sides of the issue. I have a Bachelors in Chemical Engineering From The University of Pennsylvania (with Honors) , attended the Masters in Chemical Engineering program from Cornell University and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for about 20 years. I myself have published papers in many areas.

Lack of a formal education does not prevent many people from commenting on research whether qualified or not but I think my 65 years of experience with ADHD qualifies me to understand all the bad habits that people indulge in and what the impact is on my body so as I have said before, you are reading a case study of one person.

Aaron Carroll at the The Incidental Economist wrote an essay that Sugar, and candy, do not make kids hyper and he is a little one sided on the issue. My favorite study is also his, as I quote:

“In my favorite of these studies, children were divided into two groups. All of them were given a sugar-free beverage to drink. But half the parents were told that their child had just had a drink with sugar. Then, all of the parents were told to grade their children’s behavior. Not surprisingly, the parents of children who thought their children had drunk a ton of sugar rated their children as significantly more hyperactive. This myth is entirely in parents’ heads. We see it because we believe it.”

Now I took the time too read the background of Doctor Aaron Carrol and academically and career wise, he is far more qualified than I am to pontificate on the subject except his picture and physique appear to me as unlikely that he has ADHD and can pass judgment from what he feels in his own body.

Without getting into what I feel, I would have been more impressed if this study had a control group of problem hyperactive kids selected by teachers and school psychologists and let them consume all the candy and soda that they wanted over the course of 2-4 hours while running wild at a birthday party and then dumped them back on the parents while swearing to the parents that the kids only had sugar free candy and soda and gluten free artificially sweetened cake. Then ask the parents if the sugar free party overloaded the child because of all the excitement alone.

Experiments without control groups are not experiments at all. The placebo effect is well known in medical research but it should be run against a control. Better yet, a double blind experiment should have been done where neither parents nor researchers know which half of both groups actually got sugar or sugar free sweets and soda. Then they all could have been clinically evaluated. I don’t know about Dr. Carrol, but in my mind experiments without controls constitute junk science that allows a jump from conjecture to conclusion without benefit of a really controlled experiment.

In 1994, Mark L. Wolraich et al, published a study entitled the Effects of Diets High in Sucrose or Aspartame on The Behavior and Cognitive Performance of Children. This study had an excellent design, with random diets spread over 9 weeks to test the three sweeteners.  In the study, 25 normal preschool children (3 to 5 years of age), with an estimated average weight about 15.5 kg (34 pounds) were fed (±SD) of 5600 ±2100 mg of sucrose per kilogram of body weight per day while on the sucrose diet. That works out to  86800 mg sugar, per day or 3 oz of total refined sugar or 330 calories from refined sugar. There were 23 school-age children (6 to 10 years) described by their parents as sensitive to sugar with no mention of ADHD. They weighed approximately 24 kg ( 53 pounds). These children considered to be sensitive to sugar ingested 4500 ±1200 mg of sucrose per kilogram, which works out to 108,000 mg (3.8 oz) or 418 calories of refined sugar.

For the children described as sugar-sensitive by their parents with no known diagnoses of ADHD, there were no significant differences among the three diets in any of 39 behavioral and cognitive variables. For the preschool children, only 4 of the 31 measures differed significantly among the three diets, and there was no consistent pattern in the differences that were observed.

Now this study also has several serious flaws not the least of which is that parents are not doctors or even child psychologists so it is hard to accept their claim of sugar sensitivity. As Dr. Carrol mentioned for the previous group; “[They] see it because [they] believe it.” The only technical problem that I have is that the sugar levels tested are exceptionally low. It was 3 oz for the preschool children and 3.8 ounces for the older group. To put that in perspective the average American consumes about 4.5 ounces per day and the average child 4.2 ounces of refined sugar daily. So these children were being tested for the effect of sugar at subnormal levels and the results extrapolated by some to children with ADHD. More Junk Science.

I tried to review a few more articles but since I am not part of the medical community and am retired on substandard fixed income, I could not afford the minimum $43 per article. There are others of course which take the opposing view but that is not my point. My point is that all articles on the topic should be critically evaluated and those with substandard design or pure junk science should be eliminated before trying to find a consensus.

Now I know the effect that sugar has on my body and I also know about how irresponsible I can be when binging on sugar which still occasionally occurs. I know the benefits that I get from small amounts of Candy which is why I still purchase it and I know the measurable negative effects when I go on a sugar binge. Both are equally real to me and while I don’t think the negative effects are good, I am not sure they trigger hyperactivity at my age.

In my next post, I will describe binging on sugar, the effect on my body and what I would consider to be a definitive experiment on Children with ADHD.