ADHD or too much sugar?


Could unruly kids with ADHD-like problems be hypersensitive to sugar and wheat? Here’s yet another story about what can happen when parents try to exclude such foods:

OK, let’s try this. We’ll skip wheat and sugar. We started at the beginning of the school year. No wheat flour and no sugar (either at school or at home). Three days later we already noticed a significant difference and now, 4 weeks later, we’re not the only ones cheering…

The original story here: ADHD or Too Much Sugar? (Google translated from Swedish)

Many experts have previously dismissed the association between sugar and ADHD. Studies designed to give children small amounts of sugar (up to a pint – half a liter – of soda) have not shown any significant short-term effect. But the effect of long-term use of large amounts of bad carbohydrates is unknown. And there’s a high-quality study that demonstrated a significant improvement from avoiding, among other things, sugar and wheat flour.

There are scientists who believe that ADHD symptoms are similar to withdrawal symptoms from drugs and thus may present because the child is addicted to junk food/sugar. If you remove this food, the problem might then soon (within days or weeks) diminish, which seems to be a common experience among at least some parents and teachers.

Do you have any experience with ADHD and a diet change?


Kids’ Birthday Party With No Added Sugar

Sugar Addiction and ADHD Kept Under Control with LCHF

Aggressive Children with Attention Problems Drink Lots of Soda


  1. FrankG
    Wouldn't it be great to look back on all this in a few years time: with many cancers, Alzheimer's, ADHD, Type 2 Diabetes and others, banished to the back burners of dis-ease where they belong and wonder how we could ever have allowed such a crazy turn of events to happen?

    Of course for that to happen, common-sense would need to win out over policies driven by greed and profit...

    Reply: #2
  2. Paul the rat
    and employment of (countless number by now) scientists looking for a 'ADHD gene'
  3. Paul the rat
    OK, rats are the subjects [and as one of the trolls stated as a fact (this troll always reported 'only facts', always), that I can not distinguish between human and rat - that is why I called myself 'the rat'] however many aspects of neurophysiology are common to all animals.

  4. Camila
    I thought ADHD wasn't even a real thing anymore. Not a real disease, not a syndrome, just a collection of behaviors parents and teachers deem undesirable.
    Reply: #14
  5. Peggy Holloway
    My son's childhood and adolescence were destroyed because his misguided parents (including his father who is a primary care physician) fed him a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. He was put on ADHD meds, but learned that pot was the best drug and self-medicated himself into major difficulties. I discovered the truth about low-fat diets in 2000, and urged him to reduce his sugar and grain consumption. After a bad "Red Bull" experience (fructose, sucrose, and red dye which is also a major trigger) at age 19, he changed his diet and is now a staunch low-carb, paleo, organic foods advocate. He is happy and healthy and would be the first to support everything in this article. He wrote papers and speeches in college on this very topic. I have no doubt things would have been much different for our family had we known years ago what we know now, but thank God for individuals like Andreas who are helping to spread the truth.
    Reply: #7
  6. murray
    But fortunate to have parents magnanimous enough to admit error and adapt.
  7. DonnaE
    My daughter has ADHD that has persisted despite a (pretty much) low-carb, wheat-free diet. I suspect the etiology in her case had more to do with my undiagnosed hypothyroidism during pregnancy, which in turn might possibly have been due to my past high consumption of soy milk. I have seen studies showing a relationship between thryoid deficiency in pregnant mothers and ADHD, for example:
  8. Lupa
    This has been my mom's pet theory for years.
    She is a primary school teacher and has noticed that the kids with the worst ADHD/ behavioural problems are the same ones that usually buy "lunch" (and often breakfast too) at the school tuck shop. Being little kids they buy crisps and soda and chocolate, and not the meals that their parents imagine they are buying.

    Of course kids these kids probably have a greater degree of disorganisation in their home life than kids that come from families where someone is taking the time and effort to pack them lunch, so there are obviously other factors involved too. But it is still an interesting avenue for some research. I think the people designing the studies need to be realistic about how much sugar these kids actually eat. It doesn't help to give them half a cup of soda and say there was no effect when some of them are literally eating several bags of crisps, a few bars of chocolate and a big can of soda and calling that a meal. Twice a day, every day, with more snacks at home after school.

  9. François
    There is indeed evidence that the ADHD brain may be strongly affected by carbs. Some have postulated that ADHD may be caused by too much sugar (read here sweets and starches) in the diet. I believe this is only part of the problem. Of course, excess of certain substances (sugar, fructose, starches and, also omega-6 fatty acids) most probably plays a role. But what about all the brain does not get in the modern low fat high carb diet? What about essential fatty acids: saturated and omega-3? (Fat makes up three quarters of the brain). I would tend to think that too much sugar is not THE cause of ADHD but rather that it is one of the causative factors in brains that are also deprived of essential fatty acids and of ketone bodies, a fat derivative, as a source of energy. Without sufficient fat, a diet high in sugar will cause a spike of sugar immediately after eating. This leads to high levels of insulin to help mobilize this glucose. Insulin prevents the body’s fat cells from releasing anything into the bloodstream, which means that the brain does not even have access to endogenous fat to build itself. While the brain cannot utilize fats as an energy source (since three quarters of the brain is fat, in starvation, the brain would cannibalize itself), it does need fats as a construction material to build the vast network of nerve fibers. But a low fat high carb diet prevents this utilization of fat by the brain. So the brain of the developing child, already affected by insufficient and incorrect growth because of the mother’s low fat diet cannot even attempt to compensate by building “overtime” adequate nerve pathways because this source of raw material is not available. Rather, this immature brain is given a highly variable source of energy with high spikes and deep lows, making concentration very difficult. There is also possibly an effect of the relative deficit in omega-3 fatty acids. The ideal ratio should be one omega-3 for 1 to 4 omega-6. In the Standard American Diet, the problem is not only an excess of quick-acting carbohydrates and a lack of fats: there is also a severe imbalance in the type of fats. With the introduction of cheap vegetable oils, which contain no omega-3 fatty acids, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 went to 1 omega-3 for 20 to 30 omega-6. This definitely is not good for the brain: not enough fat and not the right kind. No wonder our kid’s brains do not do well on such an abnormal diet!
    ADHD, autism spectrum disorders including Asperger’s, along with Alzheimer’s disease exploded about at the same time the first USDA recommendations on “healthy eating” were promulgated. It is also interesting to note that adult ADHD is a strong “risk factor” for Alzheimer. (But remember, correlation is not causation).
    The percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to increase. It went from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 and to 11.0% in 2011. Rates of ADHD diagnosis increased an average of 3% per year from 1997 to 2006 and an average of approximately 5% per year from 2003 to 2011. When I started medicine in 1982, there were basically no kids with ADHD. Nowadays, it is nearly the reverse: if a kid does not have ADHD, Asperger’s or some other weird brain development disorder, I wonder if I did not miss something.
    Of course, physicians are not trained to think outside the box. The “why” question is not common. The industry was quick to develop expensive drugs to “treat” these new conditions. People played lip service to the dietary hypothesis and poorly-devised experiments “proved” this hypothesis wrong, justifying more medication.
    Here is an important question: is Alzheimer’s disease CAUSED by ADHD or are these two diseases simply strongly correlated, both being caused by the same nutritional factor? Could it be possible that the same low-fat craze (and the change in fatty acid source) is responsible not only for the explosion of chronic disease but also of these extremely severe brain diseases? It is clear that the diet of the pregnant mother influences greatly the development of the growing fetus: a simple lack in folic acid massively increases the odds of a terrible condition, the spina bifida, where the neural canal does not close and nervous tissue are left protruding in a soft pouch in the lower back. Could the insistence of the medical establishment for “healthy low-fat high-carb eating” and “heart-healthy omega-6” be anything but healthy, essentially depriving the developing brain of the child of essential nutrients? Could this “healthy eating” and shying away of foods rich in essential fatty acids cause in pregnant mothers massive deficiencies in these key nutrients for the brain, increasing the risk of ADHD and autism for their child to be born?
    I personally think so. I recommend reading the extremely detailed entry by Stephanie Seneff of MIT. She makes a strong detailed argument on that very subject. So essentially, it is important not only to reduce to a minimum sugars and sweets (and inflammatory omega-6) in a child with ADHD but also to provide this brain with essential saturated and omega-3 fats for the brain to build itself and feed itself with a good, constant source of energy.
    Reply: #12
  10. Joey B
    You know what I think its time for me to start feeding my kids more avocados!! They already love them more than candy or sugary drinks! The only sugar they consume is berries some bananas or watermelon. They already feel better and are more focused at school since giving up all the crap junk food. They even tell me they rarely crave it anymore :) I also love the no sugar added birthday cake idea from the previous post will have to try it sometime!
  11. murray
    "Insulin prevents the body’s fat cells from releasing anything into the bloodstream, which means that the brain does not even have access to endogenous fat to build itself. "

    Nice observation. I will ruminate on that one. A recent paper dealt with lactate production and inhibition of fat cells releasing fat. I am trying to sort in my mind the glucose-insulin-lactate-mitochondrial health-fat metabolism dynamics.

    I saw a couple of interesting studies on serum lactate levels and diabetes. Once again the trail to disease seems to lead to damaged mitochondria (i.e., low oxidative capacity), as a result of insulin-sensitive cells taking in and having to burn excess sugar in response to continually elevated serum glucose+insulin.

    Plasma lactate and diabetes risk in 8045 participants of the atherosclerosis risk in communities study

    “These findings suggest that low oxidative capacity may precede diabetes. Future studies should evaluate the physiological origins of elevated lactate to better understand its possible role in the pathogenesis of diabetes.”

    Lactate and the GPR81 receptor in metabolic regulation: implications for adipose tissue function and fatty acid utilisation by muscle during exercise

    “ A high proportion (50 % or more) of the glucose utilised by white adipose tissue is converted to lactate and lactate production by the tissue increases markedly in obesity; this is likely to reflect a switch towards anaerobic metabolism with the development of hypoxia in the tissue.”

  12. Nan
    When my children were young it was common knowledge that too much sugar would set most kids off. A birthday party was a zoo of hyped up little kids who had just eaten a few hundred grams of the white stuff. Instead of getting kids off all the junk, it is now an excuse to medicate them. A pitiful state of affairs.

  13. DonnaE
    It's not fair to be so dismissive of ADHD, folks. Maybe it is overdiagnosed, but ask my daughter (19) if it is "real," and she will say yes, definitely. Like many females, she has the inattentive type, without hyperactivity. She also has another "unidentified" learning disability associated with slow processing speed. I don't know why people are sympathetic to other learning disabilities but so dismissive of ADHD. :(
  14. Boundless
    ADHD is, of course, a recently invented ailment. It didn't exist when I was school age.

    Some have correlated the problem to the rise in sugar consumption,
    some specifically to the rise in HFCS consumption, or just carbs generally.
    Some (Perlmutter) think the chief antagonist is gluten-bearing grains.
    Others blame glyphosate/RoundUp (Mercola) if not GMO generally.
    Others blame reduced fat consumption and increased Omega 6 consumption.

    Fortunately, a grain-free low-carb high-fat organic diet avoids all of those suspects, and is easily worth trying.

    Parents need to know that changing aisles at the supermarket is an available option, vs. drugging their kids so they don't misbehave at the DARE presentation.

    Reply: #16
  15. DonnaE
    Autism barely "existed" either when we were young, but that doesn't mean it's not real. My daughter says I am a "food Nazi" for feeding my family low-carb and grain- and sugar-free, but it has not "cured" her ADHD just as it has not "cured" her other learning disability.
    Replies: #17, #18
  16. FrankG
    DonnaE you and your daughter have my sympathy.. I guess no-one has all the answers. I am certainly not suggesting that ADHD or other learning disabilities are not real. Even if ADHD were ONLY a result of the current food environment (and although I am highly suspicious, I'm not certain that it is that simple) that would make it no less real.

    I wish you both well and hope you find a solution that works for you.

  17. Boundless
    > ... but that doesn't mean it's not real.

    These remarks are not about your case, as there's insufficient info.

    In the vast majority of cases, diet makes ADHD vanish. I expect that even with such measures, a handful of cases will remain where the answers lie elsewhere. Using drugs whose long-term effects have never been studied, and some of which have only been on the market for a few years, would be my last choice.

    The list of things to eliminate, and add, is quite long. I didn't mention, for example, eliminating aspartame, supplementing DHA and getting gut biome in order with probiotics. Almost all prepared foods are contaminated with wheat, sugars, adverse fats, corn, not to mention suspect colorants and preservatives. Some might be later added back as challenge tests.

    In the case of children of school age, non-compliance outside the home has to be considered, esp. in North American government schools, where the wardens are close to force-feeding grains to the inmates due to insane national diet guidelines.

    Any parent facing a behavior issues needs to read Perlmutter's "Grain Brain". He's one of the top US neurologists. I suspect he never prescribes methylphenidate.

    Reply: #19
  18. DonnaE
    Boundless: can you site any evidence that "in the vast majority of cases, diet makes ADHD vanish"? I'm a big low-carb fan, but low-carbing is not the answer to all health problems. On the other hand, hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency in pregnant women have been linked in a number of studies to developmental problems in their babies, including ADHD.
    Reply: #20
  19. Boundless
    > ... can you site any evidence that "in the
    > vast majority of cases, diet makes ADHD vanish"?

    Given the relative paucity of unconfounded studies, I've probably over-reached what the existing data says, but all of the cites in Perlmutter's book (Chapter 6 in particular) point in that direction.

    > I'm a big low-carb fan, but low-carbing is not the answer to all ...

    Note that I said "diet" and not low-carb. For anyone who wants to address a child behavior issue with diet, I would tend do all of:
    - grain free (including corn, not just the gluten-bearing grains)
    - increase DHA (and EPA) in the diet, as fats or supplements
    - add a quality pro-biotic
    - zero out soy
    - zero out added omega 6 seed oils
    - low carb (at or under 50 net grams/day)
    - with attention to zero added sucrose, glucose, fructose, HFCS esp.
    - restrict artificial sweeteners to stevia, monk fruit, erythritol
    - organic and non-GMO only
    - avoid raw foods where off-schedule glyphosate uptake might be present
    - get real thyroid tests (FT3, FT4, RT3, TA, and if a problem,
    get effective treatment, which is usually not what's prescribed)
    - increase salt intake
    - keep an eye on other mineral needs (esp. Vit D, magnesium)
    - minimize packaged foods with colorants and preservatives

    Do this for at least 90 days (Perlmutter).

    Are ALL of these items to blame? Probably not, but none of the "eliminates" are needed in the diet (it's how I eat). If improvement is noted, you can isolate the causes by adding back junk items one at a time (I wouldn't bother, however).

    Get a Cyrex Array 3 test run, as it might provide ammunition to fight officious nannies inclined to force-feed official diet junk.

    > hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency in
    > pregnant women have been linked in a number
    > of studies to developmental problems
    > in their babies, including ADHD.

    As has ceasarean birth, BTW. The pandemic thyroid issues are apparently largely a diet problem: too little iodine, and too much exposure to thyroid antagonists in the food.

    ASD and ADHD didn't really exist 20 years ago. Today, there are an estimated 4 million US kids on behavior drugs for these supposed conditions. The wiki pages for the conditions and the treatments are very unsettling.

    Have children changed? No

    If the ailments are real, there must be an outside cause, either environmental, or ingested. My bet is diet.

    Has diet changed? Yes.
    Have carbs changed? Yes.
    Have fats changed? Yes.
    Has sugar changed? Yes.
    Have ag contaminants changed? Yes.

    People are looking at environmental suspects (chemicals, radiation, etc.), but any number of other charts sound a klaxon that people need to stop ignoring:

    Reply: #21
  20. DonnaE
    Not to beat this to death (really), but (1) I agree totally that thyroid problems are probably mostly dietary in origin, and in my case I suspect it was too much soy milk (as I said in an earlier comment). But (2) IF my daughter's ADHD is the result of my hypothyroidism in pregnancy (as I suspect), then I don't think it's reasonable to expect that all those dietary changes will make much difference (and I do try to keep her off most of those things you proscribed, but she is not totally cooperative!). I recently read a study that found 26% prevalence of iodine deficiency in U.S. girls. That bodes very ill for those girls' thyroid health as adults and their offspring's developmental health, including ADHD. :( Oh, and (3) I used to work in my uncle's pharmacy in the 1970s, and PLENTY of kids were taking Ritalin for ADD!
    Reply: #22
  21. Boundless
    > Not to beat this to death (really), ...

    The horse is still twitching. A few more swings should do :).

    > ... I agree totally that thyroid problems are
    > probably mostly dietary in origin, ...

    As does Dr. Davis ("Wheat Belly"), who has posted about it several times on his blog, and features it in the list of weight loss inhibitors.

    If you don't know, you need to know that:
    - supplementing iodine on your own is risky unless Hashimotos is ruled out
    - the standard thyroid panel (TSH, total T4) is useless
    - the "normal" reference values are too high even for TSH
    - getting a proper FT3, FT4, RT3 and TA test can be a battle
    - the results are likely to be misinterpreted
    - clueless practitioners resist prescribing T3 or dessicated thryoid, which are the treatments that actually work for hypo.

    Consensus medicine is at least as screwed up about thyroid as they are about blood lipids, hence the existence of books like "Stop the Thyroid Madness" (Bowthorpe).

    > ... (and I do try to keep her off most of
    > those things you proscribed, but she is
    > not totally cooperative!).

    Sounds like you are making a stellar effort. Can you engage her on investigating ASD/ADHD on her own, and in particular the known and suspected side effects of the meds? If she decides the changing supermarket aisles makes more sense than meds, she may be more disciplined about avoiding toxins sold as food.

    > I used to work in my uncle's pharmacy in the
    > 1970s, and PLENTY of kids were taking Ritalin for ADD!

    Thanks. I'll keep that in mind.

    Reply: #23
  22. DonnaE
    Thanks for the advice, Boundless. Daughter has significant "executive functioning" issues so being "more disciplined" is a challenge, but (thank goodness) she is very smart and does believe most of what her mom says about nutrition. As for thyroid, management of that is indeed a major challenge. After I gave up grains and soy, mine started working much better and it took me three years to get my medication properly adjusted. And during those three years, I progressed from osteopenia to osteoporosis! I have found a receptive endocrinologist who is cooperating with me in trying to narrow my TSH range to very close to 2 (and yes, he has tested FT3 and FT4) to make extra sure my bone density doesn't decline further, at least not as a result of thyroid medication. Does that (TSH nearest possible to 2) make sense to you? It was my idea, and he doesn't treat me like I'm a nut case. Again, thanks!
    Replies: #24, #25
  23. François
    Donna, I'll be brief (I can be brief sometimes)
    Please see the very detailed and lenghty post of Stephanie Seneff (just google her) from MIT. She makes a strong case as to the fact ADHD is a real disease and what can be done to prevent/treat/reverse it.
    Reply: #26
  24. Boundless
    > Does that (TSH nearest possible to 2) make sense to you?

    Dr. Davis (who is hypothyroid, by the way) says "... ideal TSH is in the range of 1.5 mIU or less."

  25. Boundless
    > ... Stephanie Seneff (just google her) from MIT.

    Her conjecture sounds very much like Perlmutter, who said in "Grain Brain" (p141) "I can't tell you how many times I've `cured' ADHD just by recommending a DHA supplement."

    > She makes a strong case as to the fact ADHD is a
    > real disease and what can be done to prevent/treat/reverse it.

    What is a "real" disease? Obesity was lately declared so, and I disagree. Indeed, I consider T2D to also not be a disease, but merely a predictable metabolic response to a full-time excessively glycemic diet.

    ADHD doesn't even have a stable diagnosis. It may turn out to be multiple conditions, one of which is simply DHA deficiency (thanks a bunch, low fat diet). Once the dietary effects are swept away, we may be left with a number of cases that have other causes. Some of those might actually be diseases.

  26. Douglas
    I'm an adult with ADHD. I've been on an LCHF diet for 4 1/2 weeks. My ADHD is about the same.
  27. Cassandra
    to Boundless I actually have ADHD I am more specifically what the call and ADD/ADHD combination and I have studied it relentlessly and I have even spoken to one of the Top ADHD experts in North America and I can tell you that Diet Almost Never Cures or Gets rid of ADHD in Some cases Diet can control Symptoms No more no Less

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