Sugar: Trick or Treat?
I have a niece who reacts dramatically to sugar -- she is out of control in a matter of minutes after having it. Is this an indication of something serious?
What a good question for Halloween -- I suspect every kid in the country is going to overdose on chocolate, caramel, and candy corn this weekend! A sugar binge probably won't hurt if it's an annual affair, but some kids (and adults) don't react well to sugar. They get a "rush" of energy after eating sweets, similar to your description of what happens to your niece. The rush is usually followed by a crash -- a feeling of lethargy, depression, or just sleepiness. Conventional medical studies have not shown that sugar causes hyperactivity, but that doesn't mean a connection doesn't exist -- different bodies process sugar differently. Some parents are convinced sugar makes their young children hyperactive, and they find less severe behavior and attention problems if sweets are restricted or removed.
I don't think anyone knows why some of us handle sugar easily while others cannot. The problem may be a mild version of what happens with alcohol, which is metabolized as carbohydrates and burns immediately, releasing a flood of caloric energy. Because of this effect, some people claim to be addicted to sugar and speak of it as a drug rather than as a food. I view it as food that may have drug-like effects in some people.
Of course, be aware that sugar can be fattening, especially when combined with fats, as in ice cream, rich candies, and pastries. And the bacteria in our mouths love feeding on sugar -- so be sure to brush your teeth after eating sweets to prevent cavities. In this respect, honey is one of the worst offenders because it is so sticky. (Surprisingly, chocolate isn't bad for teeth because it contains substances that disrupt the "glue" made by bacteria in order to adhere to tooth enamel.)
What happens to your niece isn't unusual and probably isn't a sign of anything serious. However, her reaction to sweets suggests she may be among the many children and adults who don't handle sugar well. If so, her parents should probably try to keep her away from it as much as possible. As she grows up, she'll have to find her own way of dealing with sweets. In the meantime, her Halloween treats should probably be carefully monitored and doled out sparingly -- but that's probably good advice for all of us. Happy Halloween!