When derived from healthy sources, sugar actually provides immense benefits to neurological health.
Natural sugars found in things like honey and fruit are great ways to increase focus and cognition so long as we don’t consume more than 30g a day (roughly seven sugar cubes).
It should come as no surprise that a failure to adhere to this guideline greatly outweighs the benefits of successfully doing so.
In addition to its studied impact on obesity and metabolism, the soluble carbohydrate poses a great risk to our mental health.
According to a new meta-analysis published in the Journal of Evolution and Human Behavior, consuming excessive amounts of sugar exasperates symptoms associated with attention-deficit hyperactivity syndrome (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and general aggressiveness.
“Several behavioral disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and aggressive behaviors are linked with sugar intake and obesity,” the authors wrote. “Here we present a hypothesis supporting a role for fructose, a component of sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and uric acid (a fructose metabolite), in increasing the risk for these behavioral disorders.”
The team from the University of Colorado more directly set out to define the punitive effects fructose, found in sugar and high fructose corn syrup, and uric acid have on behavioral disorders.
Not only did the researchers establish a relationship between disease incidence and high sugar intake after reviewing previously published literature, but they also uncovered a fascinating explanation.
Excessive intake of fructose found in refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup may activate pathways our ancestors needed for survival.
“Recent studies show that fructose is a unique nutrient that stimulates an innate survival pathway for many species that involves the foraging for food with storage of the energy as fat,” the authors continued. “In Western Society the high intake of sugar has placed this survival pathway in overdrive, leading to an increase in obesity and diabetes.
“Excessive fructose intake may lead to a hyperactive foraging response, contributing to behavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, manic depression, and aggressive behavior.”
Risk-taking, impulsivity, novelty seeking, rapid decision making, and aggressiveness are all qualities needed to successfully compete for rare items with other predators and gatherers.
Although sugar is much more accessible to us 21st-century apes, there may still be lingering evolutionary mechanisms triggered by it.
Even with the present data at hand, it’s important not to understate the genetic factors that contribute to mental illness, or the clinical measures developed to counteract it.
However, those easily put out of their mood, could do well to limit relevant aggravators.
“High glycemic carbohydrates and salty foods may also contribute as they can be converted to fructose in the body,” the authors concluded. “Some studies suggest uric acid produced during fructose metabolism may mediate some of these effects. Chronic stimulation of the pathway could lead to desensitization of hedonic responses and induce depression. In conclusion, a hyperactive foraging response driven by high glycemic carbohydrates and sugars may contribute to affective disorders.”
The authors intend to research these pathways further in the future.