The Potential Dangers of Sugar on Early Childhood Development

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

No one expects good news to come from research on sugar, but a recent study revealed some particularly grim results. According to the report, eating excessive amounts of sugar as a child could severely impact a person’s ability to deal with stress throughout their life. Shockingly, sugar’s effects on a developing mind were so severe that they were found to be similar to the lasting effects of neglect and abuse.

It all comes back to a hormone we produce when we’re stressed: cortisol. Because rats have the same chemical reaction to stress, they were the subjects that researchers at the University of New South Wales Austraila and the Indian Council of Medical Research chose for their experiment.

To simulate early life trauma, nesting material was withheld from half of the rats in the study. The other half was provided bedding, and thus: a normal upbringing. All of the rats were provided with unlimited food and water, but half of them were given a treat: as much sugar water as they could drink.

When the results of the study were tallied, researchers noticed a similarity. Rats that slept in cozy bedding and guzzled sugar water had similar changes in their brains to the rats who had been denied access to both. By eating sugar, the otherwise happy rats were exposing themselves to extreme levels of stress, while at the same time inhibiting the neural receptor that aids in recovering from its effects. Pretty big price to pay for some sugar water!

Based on these findings, I should be impervious to stress considering the fact that my loving parents were very careful to monitor how much sugar I ate as a kid. Unfortunately — heh — that is not the case. Still though — definitely something interesting to think about, even if the study did just focus on rats!