Carbohydrates, Autism and ADHD

Dr. S asks, "What do you see as the role or roles of carbohydrate foods in the development of child mental disorders such as ADHD and autism?"

While refined carbohydrates and sugars are not shown to cause autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they can worsen symptoms in a number of ways.  In the US, highly refined carbohydrates, sugars included, are heavily marketed to children.  When eaten, refined carbohydrates (including unsweetened carbohydrates, unsweetened cornflakes is one example) convert to sugar in the digestive system, quickly enter the bloodstream, and are quickly cleared by the flood of insulin they promote.  Brain cells, which cannot store carbohydrates for energy, feel the sudden loss of fuel, and the sugar high becomes a sugar crisis as children become inattentive and agitated due to the sudden drop in blood sugar.  

A frequently overlooked way that refined carbohydrates contribute to symptoms of ADHD and Autism is by robbing the body’s supply of magnesium over time.  Both Autism and ADHD share hyperactivity in common, and studies suggest magnesium deficiency exacerbates hyperactivity.  Children deficient in magnesium have higher hyperactivity scores, and a combination of B6 and magnesium has been shown to reduce hyperactivity in ADHD children whose red blood cells test low in magnesium.

There is evidence to suggest the behavior and perceptions of autistic children benefit from robust cultures of probiotic bacteria in the intestine.  These probiotic bacterial cultures are sensitive to diet.  Refined carbohydrates and sugars upset the balance of the intestine, fueling the growth of pathogenic bacteria and yeast that crowd out desirable inhabitants.  

Children with ADHD and Autism frequently have special metabolic needs that can only be addressed by a nutrient dense diet.  Diluting the diet with empty calories, such as those provided by refined carbohydrates and sugars, denies a child access to nutrients needed to optimize brain function, and behavior by extension.  

These are just a few considerations among the many studied, and they are not limited to children with ADHD and Autism.  All children deserve a nutrient dense diet free of refined carbohydrates for optimal growth and development.

For more information, please join me with Dr. Robert Su as we explore pediatric nutrition and mental health in our podcast at the following link:

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