Johnson RJ, Gold MS, Johnson DR, Ishimoto T, Lanaspa MA, Zahniser NR, Avena NM. (2011) Postgrad Med. 123(5) 39-49. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2011.09.2458.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects nearly 10% of children in the United States, and the prevalence of this disorder has increased steadily over the past decades.
The cause of ADHD is unknown, although recent studies suggest that it may be associated with a disruption in dopamine signaling whereby dopamine D2 receptors are reduced in reward-related brain regions. This same pattern of reduced dopamine-mediated signaling is observed in various reward-deficiency syndromes associated with food or drug addiction, as well as in obesity. While genetic mechanisms are likely contributory to cases of ADHD, the marked frequency of the disorder suggests that other factors are involved in the etiology.
In this article, we revisit the hypothesis that excessive sugar intake may have an underlying role in ADHD. We review preclinical and clinical data suggesting overlaps among ADHD, sugar and drug addiction, and obesity. Further, we present the hypothesis that the chronic effects of excessive sugar intake may lead to alterations in mesolimbic dopamine signaling, which could contribute to the symptoms associated with ADHD.
We recommend further studies to investigate the possible relationship between chronic sugar intake and ADHD.