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AURORA, Colo. — For both children and adults, mental health disorders can have damaging effects on all aspects of their lives. As scientists examine the causes of attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome (ADHD) and bipolar disorder, a new catalyst is emerging. Researchers from the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus say sugar intake may play a major role in these disorders and even aggressive behavior.

Their study suggests fructose (a type of simple sugar) and uric acid increases the risk for developing various behavioral conditions. Researchers find that this component of sugar and high fructose corn syrup tricks the body into thinking it’s starving; thereby changing a person’s mental state as well.

“We present evidence that fructose, by lowering energy in cells, triggers a foraging response similar to what occurs in starvation,” says lead author Richard Johnson in a university release.

Sugar makes people more impulsive

Johnson, a professor at CU’s School of Medicine, explains that the foraging response causes humans to act impulsively. This survival instinct also triggers more risk taking, rapid decision making, and aggressiveness. Genetically, this response has helped our ancestors secure food throughout history. Today however, researchers say the explosion of sugary foods and drinks may be keeping this emergency reflex around without need.

“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.

The study, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, examines how refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup tie to behavioral issues linked to obesity and western diets.

“We do not blame aggressive behavior on sugar, but rather note that it may be one contributor,” Johnson explains. “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.”

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About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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