Objective: Eating simple sugars has been suggested as having adverse behavioral and cognitive effects in children, but a physiologic mechanism has not been established. This study was performed to address this issue.
Design: Metabolic, hormonal, and symptomatic responses to a standard oral glucose load (1.75 gm/kg; maximum, 120 gm) were compared in 25 healthy children and 23 young adults, and the hypoglycemic clamp, together with measurements of P300 auditory evoked potentials, was used to assess whether children are more vulnerable than adults to neuroglycopenia.
Setting: Children's Clinical Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine.
Results: Baseline and oral glucose-stimulated plasma glucose and insulin levels were similar in both groups, including the nadir glucose level 3 to 5 hours after oral administration of glucose (3.4 +/- 0.1 mmol/L (61 +/- 1.8 mg/dl) in children and 3.5 +/- 0.1 mmol/L (63 +/- 1.8 mg/dl) in adults). The late glucose decrease stimulated a rise in plasma epinephrine levels that was twofold higher in children than in adults (2260 +/- 289 vs 1031 +/- 147 pmol/L (407 +/- 52 vs 186 +/- 26 pg/ml), p < 0.01) and a significant increase in hypoglycemic symptom scores in children (p < 0.01), but not in adults. During control experiments, in which six of the healthy children ingested a sugar-free drink, there were no significant changes in plasma glucose levels, hormone concentrations, or hypoglycemic symptom scores. During the hypoglycemic clamp, P300 potentials did not change in any of eight adult subjects until the plasma glucose concentration was lowered to 3.0 mmol/L (54 mg/dl), whereas similar changes in P300 potentials were observed in six of seven children at glucose levels 3.6 to 4.2 mmol/L (65 to 75 mg/dl).
Conclusion: Enhanced adrenomedullary responses to modest reductions in plasma glucose concentration and increased susceptibility to neuroglycopenia may be important contributing factors to adverse behavioral and cognitive effects after sugar ingestion in healthy children.