Harmful Effects of Sugar on Child Development
How sugar impacts a child’s brain development is an important, but controversial topic. However, there is research to support that consumption of large quantities of sugar can negatively affect cognitive function and psychological wellbeing, especially when the source of sugar is sugar-sweetened beverages.
A study by Translational Psychiatry shows that the part of the brain most affected by sugar (specifically, sugar-sweetened drinks) is the hippocampus. The hippocampus’ main functions are organizing and storing memories and spatial navigation. When a child over consumes sugar, the dietary sugars can drive hypothalamic inflammation. This inflammation may disrupt the ability to remember, and therefore, hinder learning. Hypothalamic inflammation can also interfere with the endocrine system, which controls the hormones in the body. Furthermore, inflammation in the brain can also damage synaptic activity. This means that there can be interference with neurotransmitters that are responsible for stabilizing mood increasing susceptibility to anxiety and depression.
We also know that consuming high levels of sugar can increase resistance to insulin (which has been shown in diabetes research). Insulin is critical for brain function by controlling blood sugar levels that are responsible for reproduction, homeostasis, cognition, and memory.
When sugar is consumed, it hits the reward center of the brain and releases dopamine. Like drugs, to receive the same reward, more sugar needs to be eaten, leading to an increase in sugar intake and chronic inflammation. However, you can help your child by creating healthy eating habits while they are young. This will help them from developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, mental health conditions, and a sugar addiction later in life. Some small things you can do that will make a big impact are:
- Limit the amount of sugar your child eats, but don’t ban sweets altogether. Try swapping out sugary treats, with fruits that contain natural sugar
- Avoid sugary drinks like soda, as these have been shown to negatively impact brain development the most
- Sit down, have meals as a family, and talk about your day
- Make a protein-filled breakfast for your child
- Have your kids help you cook
- Keep fresh fruits and veggies on hand for snack time
These small, daily adjustments can have lasting effects for your child’s overall health and brain development for years to come. So, let’s continue to kick sugar to the curb and achieve generational health together one small step at a time!
- Excess sugar consumption in children can disrupt the part of the brain that organizes and stores memories.
- Sugar consumption triggers the reward center of the brain and releases dopamine.