Does Sugar Cause Insanity?

Looking for an absurd proposition, we though that asking “Does Sugar Cause Insanity?” would be a safe bet. Nah, not even close. Browse on over to Google and you’ll get 2.5 million hits on this question. In fact, it turns out that this concept isn’t even particularly new. Malcolm Peet published a study in 2004 in the British Journal of Psychiatry, in which he found a link between sugar consumption and poor schizophrenia outcomes. He also found a link to dairy products, but we don’t have any takers yet on that crusade.

Fed UpPsychology Today (PT) is still publishing about this association as if it were a well-established cause and effect relationship, along with a long list of other bad things linked to sugar. According to PT, it causes depression, addiction, anxiety, thinking impairment, and “could be wrecking your marriage.” PT is now banned from our reading list.

All of this is pretty tame compared to the storm that Katie Couric is stirring up with her documentary film, Fed Up. As the LA Times says, the movie blames the food industry for American obesity. On the positive side of the ledger, it does a pretty fine job of telling the story of families affected by obesity. That’s a refreshing shift from the shame and blame that permeates out culture, usually directed at people with obesity.

It’s a shame that such truth telling about the human impact of obesity is offset by hyperbole about sugar as a toxin. Ironically, the movie does a good job of pointing out the problems of an excessive focus on fat as the boogeyman. Then it turns around and says the real boogeyman is sugar. No doubt, excessive sugar is a very real problem, but dogma about toxic sugar seems likely to bring us another round of unintended consequences.

It really could be that sugar causes insanity. It seems to fill self-righteous advocates with insane zeal. And it puts some potentially reasonable food and nutrition professionals into a paranoid defensive posture. It’s hardly better to water down what we actually understand about obesity and nutrition than it is to perpetuate myths and exaggerations.

To solve the problem of obesity, both the food industry and activists will have to grow up. The food industry will have to get used to being challenged and criticized — without threatening to take their marbles and go home. Activists will have to wrap their brains around reality.

That reality is that food is essential. The food industry is essential. The food industry will have to play a role in fixing this mess that they’ve played a role in making. Some will be good partners in the effort. Some will be obstacles. Time and deeds will tell.

Click here to read more about Fed Up in the LA Times and here for a little bit of balance from the Oregonian. Click here for Peet’s study of the link between sugar and schizophrenia. If you want a load of absurd pseudo science about sugar, just go to Google and search for sugar toxic. You’ll get 20 million results. Some people have too much time on their hands.

Scream, photograph © David Salafia / flickr

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