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Sugar Stomachaches: Fact or Fiction


​​​​The sugar stomachache - it's almost a rite of passage for children and their parents. Both mom and dad went through it, and now it's their child's turn.

With the overabundance of candy and sugary snacks available these days, overeating sugar may seem all but unavoidable. Valentine's Day, Hal​loween, Christmas and even the Fourth of July all present ample opportunities for children to eat more sugar than is good for them. 

But don't lose hope. It usually only takes one sugar stomachache to prevent the next one, and there are steps you can take to educate your child.

Are Sugar Stomachaches a Real Thing?

In a word, yes. Sugar has a dramatic effect on the body, which can actually lead to much more than a stomachache. About 30 minutes after eating too much sugar, there is a rise in blood sugar levels and energy. The body sees this as a response to external stress, causing the release of cortisol and adrenaline. Both these hormones can have unpleasant side effects.

 Too much cortisol can cause:​

  • Intestinal problems, such as constipation, bloating, gas or diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Trouble sleeping (since it's an alertness-boosting hormone)

 Too much adrenaline may lead to:

  • Digestion problems similar to those caused by cortisol
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches​

To top it all off, excess sugar levels also cause a rush of dopamine. This can lead to poor impulse control, meaning your child may keep eating sugary treats even if their body and common sense are telling them to stop.

The rush of these hormones causes the body to overreact and overcompensate in an attempt to stabilize blood sugar levels, which can cause your child to feel generally uncomfortable.

All the while, sugar is expanding in the stomach and gut. Your child's body is trying to get rid of the excess sugar, which causes painful bloating, intestinal distress, diarrhea and gas. (Hello, stomachache!)

These effects can last as long as 5 hours after the binge. 

When to Call a Doctor

A sugar stomachache doesn't normally require medical care. Before calling a doctor, try home care remedies:

  • Bed rest
  • Warm compress or heating pad placed over their stomach
  • Massage your child's stomach
  • Small sips of water​

Call your Boys Town Pediatrician if your child's stomach pain lasts more than a week, gets more severe or causes frequent nausea or vomiting.

Ways to Help Your Children

There are steps you can take to help your child avoid the sugar stomachache before it happens. 

  • Educate your child on proper portion sizes from an early age. 
  • Read food labels with them. 
  • Show them that if they eat too many “bite-size" pieces of candy, they'll be eating the equivalent of two or three candy bars.
  • When your child has a sugar stomachache, be sure to relate the discomfort they're feeling back to the amount of sugar they ate.​

With these tips, hopefully, your child's first sugar stomachache will be their last.​

Health and Safety;Nutrition Pediatrics