How many times have you heard that sugar makes kids hyperactive, or that caffeine will keep you up all night, or that cigarettes make you jittery? Well, research now shows that this is not true for everyone. In fact, it can have the opposite effect on some people and in moderate amounts. No, you’re not necessarily crazy, you’re just different.
There have been at least twelve trials of various diets investigating different levels of sugar in children’s diets. That’s more studies than are often done on new drugs coming to market. None of these studies detected any differences in behavior between children who had eaten sugar and those who had not. These studies included sugar from candy, chocolate, and natural sources. Some of them focused on children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and some only included children who were considered “sensitive” to sugar. In all of them, the children behaved the same after eating something full of sugar or something sugar-free. Yet, the myth that sugar makes people hyperactive defies scientific evidence.
Sugar can actually calm kids down. When sugar enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain, it temporarily increases calming neuro chemicals like Serotonin. But sugar isn’t good for you, and corn syrup is even worse, so you have to choose your poison carefully. Dark chocolate is a lot healthier than milk chocolate and can help reduce cortisol levels as well as lower the levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which make kids (and adults) anxious and nervous. Chocolate is also rich in Tryptophan, which is a biochemical precursor that helps with the production of Serotonin. So, the next time your kid is bouncing off the walls, why not try giving him a little chocolate to calm him down?
Other good sources of Tryptophan include milk, eggs, Cod and spirulina, but unless your kids are a bit odd, I suggest you just stick with the milk and eggs. So, to get even more bang for the buck, get your kid to eat a real egg before he gets the chocolate egg. Wait, can’t you get milk, eggs and chocolate all together in a piece of dark chocolate cake? I think I’ve found the perfect food!
Like sugar, caffeine and nicotine can also relax some people. Central nervous system stimulant drugs like methylphenidate are used to treat children who suffer from ADHD. Caffeine is also a central nervous system stimulant and thus is being studied as a potential aid for this condition. Some folk medicine treatments for ADHD even recommend combining caffeine and sugar.
According to an article in the June 2001 issue of “Monitor on Psychology,” caffeine seems to calm hyperactivity and reduce aggressiveness in kids with ADHD. In one analysis of studies reported in the article, caffeine didn’t work as well as traditional ADHD stimulant drugs, but it helped calm hyperactivity better than no treatment at all. Additionally, a 2003 Canadian review of studies published in the journal “Food Additives and Contaminants” noted that caffeine has been used successfully to treat ADHD and has been shown to increase performance by ADHD children in attention tests.
So, to summarize, for those with a fabulous genetic predisposition, the perfect relaxing meal could be either of the following:
- a couple of eggs, a cup of coffee with milk, and a bit of chocolate or
- a piece of dark chocolate cake with a cappuccino
This might even work well for some people at night. Caffeine works by blocking the receptors in the brain that make you feel sleepy, but some people are resistant to that effect. I happen to be one of them. If your brain is resistant to caffeine, then a warm drink of any kind, including coffee, will help relax you and ease you into sleep.
Nicotine is not just a stimulant. It is also a known relaxant, primarily because it increases levels of Dopamine in the brain, a hormone / neurotransmitter that causes sensations of pleasure. Nicotine produces pleasure by attaching to the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor found on certain nerve cells. In response to nicotine, these nerve cells release a chemical signal called glutamate, which tells connected neurons to release dopamine. The more these nerve cells are excited, the more Dopamine is released and the more pleasant the feeling. Unfortunately, Nicotine doesn’t come by itself–and you really don’t want the side effects that come with smoking. Too bad we can’t brew a relaxing cup of nicotine-laced coffee before bedtime.
Evidence like this makes me skeptical of any medical advice the “experts” give that is supposed to apply to everyone. Much of what we are led to believe, even if it is scientific, only applies in some cases or sometimes doesn’t even apply at all to some individuals. Not everyone responds the same way to the same chemicals, hormones, foods, or other environmental factors. So, if something doesn’t feel or seem right, it just might not be right for you. Maybe we should all just listen to Professor Lupin. Eat some chocolate. It’s good for you.
“The mood-enhancing properties of chocolate are well known in both the Muggle and wizard worlds. Chocolate is the perfect antidote for anyone who has been overcome in the presence of Dementors, which suck hope and happiness out of their surroundings. Chocolate can only be a short-term remedy, however. Finding ways to fight off Dementors – or depression – are essential if one is to become permanently happier. Excessive chocolate consumption cannot benefit either Muggle or wizard.”