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Is Sugar Rush a Real Thing? Here’s the Truth

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

Table of Contents

horizontal shot of shocked pretty european woman holds blue and red doughnuts

Whether you’ve hauled tons of sweets and candies during Halloween’s trick-or-treat, had too much to eat during a party, or simply have a sweet tooth you can’t resist, you’ve most likely anticipated the so-called sugar rush effect. This effect has been deemed a common occurrence, especially among children. 

A sugar rush is said to trigger hyperactivity and happiness after consuming lots of sweets. But sugar high is not a real thing since sugar itself has nothing to do with mood elevation and the boost of energy. Instead, it most likely comes from the increase in neurotransmitters from eating something delicious or from other factors. Learn more about this interesting phenomenon as you read on. 

What Is Sugar Rush? 

Sugar rushes, or sugar highs, occur after consuming sugary foods and drinks, resulting in a heightened mood and increased energy. It’s a common belief among individuals, especially parents, as they observe these so-called sugar rush side effects, mainly hyperactivity and alertness, in their children. 

However, it’s clear that the sugar rush is a myth. For one, it lacks solid scientific evidence establishing the link between increased activity and sugar overconsumption. Also, the sugar high is more likely due to other factors such as overall temperament, environmental triggers for mood enhancement, sleep issues, neurobehavioral disorders, and emotional problems. 

Scientific Evidence of the Sugar Rush Myth 

positive cute woman walking outdoors in amusement park eat candyfloss.

In 1995, a comprehensive meta-analysis of 31 studies showed that excessive sugar or carbohydrates at a single time does not affect behavior and cognitive enhancement

This study remains one of the references for debunking the sugar rush myth as it elaborates on the non-existent connection between sugar consumption among children and hyperactivity. 

As a ripple effect, more attention was given to other probable causes of the sugar high side effects, such as learning disorders and environmental stimuli. 

More studies supported the conclusion from this analysis. In addition, it has been noted that feel-good hormones or neurotransmitters are released when consuming sugary foods. For example, sugar triggers dopamine production, the chemical that stimulates the sense of pleasure. As a result, it enhances your mood and can contribute to food addiction. 

Speaking of food addiction, another substance released with intermittent but excessive sugar consumption is opioids. This leads to sugar cravings and binge eating, exacerbating underlying metabolic issues. 

While dopamine can make you alert and motivated, opioids can have a different effect, making you feel drowsy and relaxed. Nevertheless, both chemicals are known to improve mood, stimulating sugar dependency.

Sugar Crash: Short-term Effects of Sugar Overdose

woman with sugary coffee in a street

Although it’s clearly established that the sugar rush is fiction, experts can’t say the same about the sugar crash. In fact, numerous studies support the concept of sugar crash or reactive hypoglycemia. During this condition, a person who consumes too much sugary foods or drinks will eventually experience symptoms of low blood sugar levels. 

The rapid increase and immediate sugar decrease are believed to have influenced the sugar high. However, more evidence is necessary to establish the mechanism of how sugar crash occurs. 

Nonetheless, if you have a sugar overdose from eating sweets in one sitting, you may experience the following:

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Shakiness
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Weakness
  • Seizures (severe cases)

Long-term Effects of High Sugar Consumption 

cheerful couple having fun while eating sugary donuts in a cafe

Before the sugar high was proven to be a misconception, people often treated soda and other sugary beverages similar to energy drinks. And while they didn’t exactly get the energy boost they needed, long-term consequences have most likely imprinted or started to develop.

Overconsumption of sugar or carbohydrates, especially when done repeatedly, can lead to irreversible health problems. These involve mainly the following conditions:

  • Obesity

Too much intake of sugar can lead to obesity as excess glucose (the simplest form of sugar) is converted into glycogen for storage either in the muscle or fat tissues. Additionally, carbohydrates, in general, typically have higher calories. If not utilized, these calories will be stored as fats, rapidly increasing your weight and size. 

Plus, the addictive nature of sugary foods and beverages means you’ll have more frequent cravings than usual. As a result, it becomes challenging to control your desire to eat.

Pro tip: Weight loss has always been the main action against obesity. However, not everyone is successful in hitting their goals. To do it right, check out our guide on common weight loss mistakes and how to avoid them.  
  • Type 2 diabetes 

Among all conditions in this list, type 2 diabetes by far has the closest association with increased sugar intake. Diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar levels, which is triggered by overconsumption of carbohydrates.

In addition, individuals who are fond of eating sweets also risk developing insulin resistance–another hallmark of type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance is when the pancreas produces large amounts of insulin to transport glucose for synthesis. However, the body becomes incapable of using the insulin, leaving the excess glucose in the blood.

While lifestyle plays a crucial part in developing type 2 diabetes, your risk for the condition also depends on your genetic disposition. This means if diabetes runs in your family, you have a higher chance of having one yourself, especially if you indulge in sugary foods and drinks. 

Did You Know? Diabetes is a complex condition that could develop over time. To understand this metabolic disorder better, check out our guides on diabetes.
10 Early Symptoms of Diabetes that You Need to Watch Out forDoes Diabetes Change Your Appearance?Why Your Wound Is Healing Slower with Diabetes?
  • High risk for heart disease 

Excessive sugar consumption is associated with higher cardiovascular disease risk. According to a major study published in JAMA, individuals who consumed 25% or more of their daily calories in the form of sugar were over twice as likely to die from heart disease than those who took below 10% added sugar. 

Additionally, increased sugar intake can also raise blood pressure and force the liver to produce unhealthy fats. In turn, these activities potentially contribute to CVD development, like stroke and atherosclerosis.

Did You Know? Heart disease recognizes no age. While elderly individuals have a higher risk of CVD, young people in their 20s can be vulnerable as well. Read more from our article outlining the reasons why young people should get tested for heart disease
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

High sugar intake can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in different ways. For example, excessive consumption of fructose in sugary drinks and processed foods affects the gut barrier and microbiota in that it triggers lipid accumulation and inflammation in the liver. These contribute significantly to the development of NAFLD. 

  • Mood disorders 

As established earlier, sugar consumption impacts the neurotransmitters involved in mood enhancement. Hence, it’s no surprise that sugar intake also has a connection with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. 

While sugar consumption can temporarily relieve stress, it can also lead to a reliance on sugar, potentially exacerbating mental health issues. It has been found that high sugar intake leads to negative neuroplasticity, cognitive impairments, and emotional disorders. 

Pro tip: Frequent sugar cravings can be a sign of mood disturbance. In some cases, it’s closely linked to depression. But aside from behavioral changes, this condition also has more apparent signs. Learn more about the physical signs of depression and what to do if you experience them. 
  • Oral health problems

Sugar is one of the main culprits that cause tooth decay. Your oral cavity contains bacteria that help predigest food. However, if you consume too much sugar, these bacteria will proliferate, which leads to a sticky film called dental plaque. Plaque buildup destroys the enamel of the teeth.

Furthermore, the rapid bacterial growth also impacts the gums, causing inflammation in certain areas, which is the hallmark of gingivitis. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

patient taking pills while doctor making medical records

Can a sugar rush make you feel sick?

Overeating sugary foods and drinks can have adverse effects, such as lethargy, dizziness, confusion, and even anxiety. Although the sugar high is a myth, you will likely experience a sugar crash when you have too many sweets. That said, make sure to take control of your sugar intake, especially during events like Halloween, birthdays, Thanksgiving, and so on.  

What are the symptoms of a sugar overdose?

Eating too much sugar can cause digestive distress and fatigue, which makes you sleepy after the meal, as your energy is directed to digestion. However, some of the long-term signs that you’re consuming excessive sugar include constant irritability, acne or breakouts, weight gain, problems sleeping, mood swings, feeling hungry, and frequent cravings for more sugar. 

Is a sugar rush like being high?

No, as the sugar rush is not actually real. While overconsuming sugar triggers the release of opioids that induce drowsiness and relaxation, its quantity is not enough to impose a similar effect as that of using weed or consuming sedatives.

The Bottom Line

Relying on sugar for extra energy is one of the biggest blunders you can commit against your health. The concept of the sugar rush is a myth that should not be spread as true as it could impact how people perceive sweets. If you need an energy boost, turn to other healthier sources like whole grains, avocados, bananas, and beans. Make sure to keep track of your sugar intake, especially if you’re at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

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