Can Fructose Trigger Hyperactivity in Kids?

Is there a difference between fructose and high fructose corn syrup and are there any links to hyperactivity in children?

– February 26, 2002

Updated on 6/30/2005

Yes, there is a difference between fructose and High fructose corn syrup. Fructose is fruit sugar, a simple sugar that makes up one-half of the moleclue of sucrose or table sugar. (The other half is glucose, usually called grape or blood sugar.) Fructose tastes sweeter than sucrose but has fewer calories because the body does not metabolize it well. This has led some people to recommend crystalline fructose as a low-calorie alternative to regular sugar. I do not agree with that recommendation.

The body doesn’t handle large amounts of fructose well. You can maintain life with intravenous glucose, but not with intravenous fructose; severe derangement of liver function results. There’s also evidence that a high intake of fructose elevates levels of circulating fats (serum triglycerides), increasing the risk of heart disease. I never use fructose in my home.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a recent invention of the food industry, made by an enzyme-mediated process. Old-fashioned corn syrup is less sweet and contains mostly glucose. HFCS matches sucrose in sweetness but is significantly cheaper. It has been considered a “revolutionary” food science innovation because it retains moisture and prevents drying, controls crystallization, and blends with other sweetners, acids and flavorings. Manufacturers love it, and it has become the main sweetner used in processed foods today. Everything from soft drinks and juices to salad dressings, ketchup, jams, jellies, ice cream and many others contain HFCS.

HFCS contains 14 percent fructose. Never before in history have so many people been consuming so much fructose, and I am concerned about its possible disruptive effects on metabolism. I’d advise you not to buy products made with HFCS and not to feed them to your kids. In general, they are low-quality foods anyway.

As to your question about whether either fructose or HFCS causes hyperactivity, conventional medical studies haven’t shown that sugar in any form is responsible, but that doesn’t mean a connection doesn’t exist as different bodies process sugar differently. Some parents are convinced sugar makes their young children hyperactive and have seen fewer behavior and attention problems if sweets are restricted or removed. This is a parental judgement call based on what you’ve observed in your own children.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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