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What is a Sugar High?

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  • Written By: B. Koch
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2016
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A sugar high is a period of hyperactivity caused by sudden high levels of blood sugar. A sugar high is more likely to be caused by the consumption of simple, refined sugars than complex carbohydrates. Frequent high spikes in blood sugar can have minor side effects for the average individual. Diabetics experience frequent high blood sugar spikes if their disease is not controlled, in which case it can have major health effects.

The symptoms of hyperactivity include increased movement, impulsiveness, and distractibility. When hyperactivity is caused by sugar consumption, it is called a sugar high. Certain sugars enter the bloodstream quickly, rapidly increasing blood sugar levels which in turn trigger the release of adrenaline, resulting in hyperactivity.

There are a number of factors that can cause a sugar high, but diet is a prime cause of hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar. Eating refined or processed sugars, such as white table sugar, honey, or high fructose corn syrup, can cause a spike in blood sugar. Stress as well as low levels of exercise can also increase a healthy person's chance of having a sugar high. Eating complex carbohydrates, such as are found in whole grains, does not have this same effect because the carbohydrates take longer for the body to metabolize and, therefore, do not cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels.

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Although not typically life threatening, a sugar high can have negative effects on healthy people. Rapid changes in blood sugar levels, such as those that occur when someone eats something very sugary, are followed by the release of insulin, which creates stress on the body and encourages the storage of fat. High levels of blood sugar also cause the immune system to become depressed, raising the chances of developing an illness. Another common side effect of a sugar high is a period of fatigue after the hyperglycemia has subsided.

In healthy adults, experiencing a sugar high is not usually a dangerous experience. As insulin is released into the body, blood sugar levels quickly go down. In diabetics, who experience poor or ineffective insulin production, hyperglycemia can be caused by the consumption of both refined sugars and complex carbohydrates, and blood sugar levels may remain high for too long. The extended hyperglycemia can result in dehydration or, in severe causes, a diabetic coma. Long term, frequent hyperglycemia may cause further health problems such as damage to the brain, the blood vessels, and the kidneys.

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ElizaBennett
Post 2

@EdRick - You might be right about the additives. My son does seem to have trouble with artificial colors. But he still gets nutty on homemade sugar treats! So I try not to keep either kind around. (Good luck with that, right?) I just don't bring that stuff in the house if I can help it.

Something that people might not realize is that white carbs can cause the equivalent of a "sugar high" even if they are not sweetened. White bread with jam? Ouch! (If it's the regular store-bought stuff, which often has high fructose corn syrup or juice concentrate, which is almost as bad, as its first ingredient.) The body processes all simple carbohydrates in pretty much the same way, so if you are trying to avoid high blood sugar levels, you'll need to avoid white carbs as well as actual sugar.

EdRick
Post 1

I know they say that the sugar high is a myth, but I don't believe it. My kid definitely behaves worse when he eats sugar! I suppose it could also be the artificial flavors, colors, etc. that sweet things tend to have.

The hardest thing is keeping them away from sweet drinks, even juice. At my house, we drink milk or water with meals. Sometimes, for a special treat, we might have a little juice diluted with flavored seltzer. Of course, this just makes my kid think that juice is the gods' own beverage!

I've really found that avoiding sugar at breakfast helps him go the whole day. I used to feed him cinnamon rolls for breakfast on special occasions, but then by afternoon, he'd be irritable. Now our "treat" breakfast is sausage and eggs (and, yes, biscuits with jam - but I make just a few biscuits). Not necessarily "healthier," but fewer negative aftereffects!

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