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Is There a Connection Between Sugar and Autism?

Is There a Connection Between Sugar and Autism?

Most elementary school teachers will confirm that there is a link between sugar and behavior but now scientists are looking deeper into that correlation.

Researchers at The California Salk Institute observed behaviors in pregnant mice that were fed a diet of high glycemic foods versus a diet of low glycemic foods. The mice in the study were specifically bred to demonstrate symptoms of autism.

High-glycemic foods produce a rapid rise in blood sugar and tend to be rich in simple carbohydrates such as sugar (potatoes, white bread and short-grain rice). Low-glycemic foods don’t produce such a blood-sugar spike. They include foods high in protein (nuts, beans and meat) and complex carbohydrates (whole grains and vegetables). Low-glycemic diets have long been recommended for people with diabetes, to help keep blood sugar on an even level.

Though their diets differed, the two groups of mice consumed the same amount of calories and maintained similar weights. After the pregnancy and the pups were weaned, the groups were maintained on the same diet and researchers tested the behavior and brain development between the two groups.

All the mice in the high-glycemic diet group demonstrated autism-like behaviors. They avoided contact with new mice placed near their chambers. They repeated actions with no apparent purpose and groomed excessively. By contrast, the mice in the low-glycemic group showed an overall reduction in their autism-like behaviors. They spent more time near new mice and less time performing repetitive behaviors such as excessive self-grooming.

Researchers continued to look for the differences between the two groups and found that the mice fed the high-glycemic diet had far lower levels of doublecortin- a protein associated with newly developing neurons. In addition, the mice on the high-glycemic diet showed more evidence of gene activity associated with inflammation and higher numbers of microglia (immune cells in the brain).

There is a great deal of research in support of sugar producing chronic low levels of inflammation and more recent studies have implicated inflammation during pregnancy with an increased risk of autism, although most of these studies focused on inflammation during pregnancy. Some researchers have proposed that the chronic inflammation produced by sugar is why diabetes during pregnancy increases the risk of autism in offspring.

Although much research still needs to be continued, a low-glycemic diet is generally considered healthful. Focus Formulations products address this issue by having very little if any sugar added to their products and they are engineered to address nutritionally deficient needs in autistic children. Autistic children often have nutrient imbalances either due to metabolic deficiencies or limited diets and it is prudent for families to work with a nutritionist for the optimal health of your child.