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Dr. Gregory Pais, ND
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Home arrow Blog arrow SODA AND MENTAL HEALTH
Periodically there will be some strange study that attempts to prove that sugar has no effect on behavior. Which contradicts the experience of most parents and daycare workers and is utter nonsense on a physiological level. This study published in the American Journal of Public Health, Am J Public Health 2006;1815-20, looked at the soft drink and food consumption of 5547 Norwegian teenagers. Why Norwegian? Norway has the highest soda consumption rate in the world-over 30 gallons per person each year.

At as much as 100 grams (7 tablespoons) of sugar per liter of soda, soft drinks are a significant source of processed sugars. Refined sugar has received attention as one of the major culprits in the childhood obesity epidemic, the rising incidence of type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay.

How are energy level and mood affected by sugar? Blood sugar levels spike rapidly after eating foods with refined sugar. The sugar 'high' is immediately followed by a crash in blood sugar. This reactive hypoglycemia can lead to brain fog, irritability, anxiety, and fatigue. Rapid changes in blood sugar affect production of stress hormones and can cause serotonin levels to be unstable. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter manipulated by drugs like Zoloft and Lexapro.

The teens in this study were asked to rate their feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, tension, sadness, panic, dizziness, and worthlessness, as well as their degree of sleeplessness, unhappiness with themselves, and the sense that everything is a burden. Other questionnaires were used to evaluate hyperactivity and conduct problems.

Boys were found to drink more soda than girls: 45% of boys and 21% of girls reported drinking one or more glasses per day. On all measurements-hyperactivity, conduct problems, mental distress, and total mental health difficulties-the boys and girls who drank the most soda (four or more glasses per day) had the most trouble.

The study's authors make two important points in their conclusion: 1. Teens who drink lots of soda are more likely to skip meals and eat less nutrient-dense foods than other teens, making them more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies that could contribute to mental health difficulties; 2. The effect of caffeine-another common ingredient in soft drinks-on behavior, attention, and mental distress is not yet fully understood. In my practice I've seen caffeine consumption cause anxiety, increased sense of stress, and decreased ability to concentrate.

For years I've been promoting the idea of removing soda from schools, events, and the home. This sugar/caffeine solution has no redeeming value whatsoever. However, this does not make diet sodas a choice. Aspartame (NutraSweet) has a long history of reported adverse effects. At one point saccharin (Sweet'N Low) was shown to cause cancer. I'm waiting for more research on Sucralose (Splenda) to further elucidate its inappropriateness. Water, caffeine-free herbal teas, and possibly diluted fruit juices are much better choices that will prevent disease in the long run.


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