MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: Can people really get a sugar high and why?

Date: Mon Jan 10 13:36:32 2000
Posted By: Dian Dooley, , Associate Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 942959531.Me

Aloha, Ron,

I guess I first need to say that there is really nothing physiologic that can be called a "sugar high." This is a very pervasive piece of incorrect information that continues to float around.

To some of the chemistry and physiology behind this misconception: Glucose (a type of simple carbohydrate/sugar) is necessary for the body to function properly. In fact, several parts of your body (e.g., red blood cells and parts of the brain) can function ONLY using glucose as an energy source. In addition, glucose is chemically a part of sucrose (table sugar)...and is released when sucrose is digested (broken apart) in the human digestive tract. Glucose can be directly absorbed into the blood and reaches the internal organs quite quickly. So, if your body wasn't maintaining some minimum level of blood glucose, it is, in theory, conceivable that eating sugar-containing foods might produce a 'sugar high'...a feeling of increased energy.

HOWEVER, since your body does not work well without some minimum level of glucose available to it, your body does everything it can (all controlled by hormones, mainly from the pancreas, as well as by other biological compounds and signals) to maintain a minimum level of glucose in the blood stream. When everything isn't working correctly, you might have diabetes (hyperglycemia: too much glucose in the blood) or be suffering from a pancreatic tumor (hypoglycemia: too little glucose in the blood because the pancreas is producing too much insulin). Hypoglycemia is a VERY rare problem, and is usually associated with something wrong with the pancreas...NOT due to eating too much sugar, as is often mistakenly thought.

It is not unusual, due to the misinformation that abounds out there in the public media (books, magazines, newspapers, word-of-mouth testimonials), to think that a 'sugar high' is a real thing. In some of the research that I have done with adolescents (almost 200 of them, at one time), we fed the boys as much sugar as we could cram into a breakfast, and not a one had a hormonal profile that suggested hypoglycemia; and, none of them experienced anything resembling a 'sugar high.' In fact, if you follow the biochemical pathway of sugar (glucose or sucrose) in the body, what it predicts is a calming effect of sugar, providing nothing else is eaten at the same time.

Kind of interesting, isn't it? So, is it OK for you to have that occasional candy bar? As long as the rest of your diet is reasonably balanced: emphasis on grain products, fruits, vegetables, and dairy/other high calcium foods...and your weight gain is OK for you age, a candy bar now and then is OK...just remember to clean your teeth afterward to prevent tooth decay. Will the candy bar cause you to have a 'sugar high?' Nope!

Thanks for your question.

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