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Researchers find link between sugar, diabetes and aggression

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A spoonful of sugar may be enough to cool a hot temper, at least for a short time, according to new research.

A study found that people who drank a glass of lemonade sweetened with sugar acted less aggressively toward a stranger a few minutes later than did people who consumed lemonade with a sugar substitute.

Researchers believe it all has to do with the glucose, a simple sugar found in the bloodstream that provides energy for the brain.

"Avoiding aggressive impulses takes self control, and self control takes a lot of energy. Glucose provides that energy in the brain," said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.

"Drinking sweetened lemonade helped provide the short-term energy needed to avoid lashing out at others."

The finding is more than just a medical curiosity, Bushman said. In two published papers, he and his colleagues did several studies showing that people who have trouble metabolizing, or using, glucose in their bodies show more evidence of aggression and less willingness to forgive others.

The problem is that the number of people who have trouble metabolizing glucose -- mainly those with diabetes -- is rising rapidly. From 1980 through 2008, the number of Americans with diabetes has more than tripled (from 5.6 million to 18.1 million).

"Diabetes may not only harm yourself -- it is bad for society," Bushman said. "The healthy metabolism of glucose may contribute to a more peaceful society by providing people with a higher level of energy for self-control."

Bushman conducted the lemonade study with C. Nathan DeWall and Timothy Deckman of the University of Kentucky and Matthew Gailllot of SUNY-Albany. It appears online in the journal Aggressive Behavior and will be published in a future print edition.

In the study, 62 college students fasted for three hours to reduce glucose instability.

Contact: Brad Bushman
Ohio State University

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