Long-Term Effects of Sucrose in Infants Unclear

Researchers urge cautious use of sucrose for pain control until effects better understood

TUESDAY, April 20 (HealthDay News) -- Little is known about the potential long-term developmental effects of early dietary exposure to sugar, and physicians should be conservative in their use of sucrose to ameliorate pain in preterm and critically ill infants, according to research published online April 19 in Pediatrics.

Liisa Holsti, Ph.D., and Ruth E. Grunau, Ph.D., of the Child and Family Research Institute in Vancouver, Canada, present research that examines the mechanisms of action of sucrose in infants, including animal studies that examine neurochemical alterations after chronic sugar exposure, as well as the latest research on the effects of repeated sucrose on pain processing.

The authors write that, in rodent studies, it appears that sweet solutions modulate pain through opioid pathways, but the evidence for this pathway in infants is less clear. The researchers also reviewed literature on the roles played by dopamine and acetylcholine regulation, and the role of insulin in motor and cognitive function. In their review of the most recent research on sucrose in infants, they found that pain reduction ranges from 16 to 28 percent, that more effective pain reduction was seen with breast-feeding, and that sucrose has variable effects on physiologic pain indices.

"Although it may seem that we are giving low volumes of sugar during neonatal intensive care unit care, research on the potential negative long-term effects of early dietary exposure to sugar is an emerging field. Thus, before clinicians lose their equipoise on the repeated use of sucrose for pain management in preterm infants, much more study is needed. We urge clinicians to use sucrose cautiously and to use other non-pharmacologic comfort measures," the authors write.

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