Mary Poppins knew this a long time ago, when she sang “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”, to handle temper tantrums of kids.
US Researchers have found that a sugar sweetened glass of lemonade or a bar of chocolate can reduce aggression and anger at least for a short span of time. This does not happen when someone consumes a sugar substitute - sugar has a relationship with the way the brain functions. Controlling aggressive impulses takes a lot of self control that is considered to consume a lot of energy. Sugar in the form of glucose, provides energy to the brain – the short term energy required to cool down.
Reduced blood sugar levels and corresponding low amounts of sugar in the brain is a condition known as hypoglaecemia which is associated with mood swings, irritability and aggression. As the brain is starved of fuel (glucose) it is simultaneously flooded with stress hormones (adrenaline); as a result, emotional symptoms arise, such as nervousness, palpitations, nightmares, panic attacks, phobias, rage, violence and even fits. A lot of research has gone into tracking the role of genetics related to aggression. Notable among these is the studies in males with X and Y imbalances, such as XXY and testosterone levels, without any correlation with aggression.
In sociology and psychology, aggression is defined as the act of causing pain or harm and refers to the combativeness within the same species (‘Predatory Aggression’ is related to members of other species); examples are common such as lions and deer or owls and smaller mammals. Among humans, however, the effect of blood and corresponding brain glucose levels seems to correlate better with aggression.
Professor Bushman, of Ohio State University has conducted a great deal of research on the problems of aggression and aggressive behaviour, and has noted that people who have trouble metabolising glucose, mainly diabetics, exhibit more aggressive behaviour and less willingness to forgive.
Diabetes has shown alarming rates of increase in many parts of the world, India being one of the countries with a large number of diabetics in its population. Lack of glucose in the brain has been correlated to violent crime rates, such as murder, rape and assault after accounting for poverty in populations throughout the world. Researchers have also studied the problem of the lack of a particular blood enzyme that is prevalent, strangely enough, in people who inhabit more than 122 countries in the world. This enzyme, glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase, is related to glucose metabolism. It is the most common enzyme deficiency and more than 400 million people are afflicted by it. Countries that have a high level of this deficiency have exhibited higher crime rates, leaving aside war and terrorism.
Professor Bushman concludes that diabetes cannot be used as an excuse for violent behaviour, but may explain why this type of behaviour occurs. With the growth of the risk of diabetes around the world, it is a problem that concerns us all. The need of the hour is to understand diabetes and how it affects the normal functioning of the brain.
The next time you’re close to blowing a fuse, take a deep breath, and a spoonful of sugar – it may well be that Mary Poppins was right after all!
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