Food Dyes, Allergies, and ADHD
Posted by Shifrah on Friday, April 01, 2011
As the number of cases of both allergies and ADHD disorders are on the rise, it's particularly interesting to examine factors that may be increasing the incidence of both conditions. One somewhat controversial such factor is the consumption of food dyes. The FDA has recently decided that more tests are needed before it can make any recommendations about food dyes, as reported by CNN in FDA advisers want more study of food dye-ADHD link.

As far back as 1975, Dr. Benjamin Feingold put forth in his book Why Your Child is Hyperactive, the idea that food dyes could lead to ADHD. Many in the autism and ADHD community are area of the diet he recommended, the Feingold diet, which essentially eliminates food dyes and additives; many swear by its results. However, "reviews of the data found that the correlation between dyes and hyperactivity were inconsistent."

Many studies on food dye and hyperactivity have been conducted since, but critics are quick to point out apparent weaknesses of the study. For instance, that children's changed behavior was reported by parents rather than clinicians or that dyes were not tested individually.

However, a 2007 study by researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom showed that artificial food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate did in fact increase ADHD symptoms in both hyperactive and non-hyperactive children. A 2010 follow-up study examined the connection between food dyes, ADHD, and histamine.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Jim Stevenson testified at the recent FDA hearing about banning or regulating food dye in products: “We found mixtures of certain artificial colors together with sodium benzoate preservative in the diet increased the average level of hyperactivity in 3 and 8/9 year old children in the general population.

Parents from all over the country also testified about the difference in their children's behavior once food dyes were eliminated from their diets. One mother spoke about how her son's allergy to food dye led to behavioral issues. Another has a website,, devoted to information about food dye allergies and making healthier food choices.

Nevertheless, the "FDA’s evaluation of studies on color additives and ADHD found there was very little strong evidence in any of these studies that showed dyes were the primary reason for a child’s hyperactivity. " The International Food Information Council concurs (IFIC). President and CEO of IFIC David Schmidt points out, “Without sufficient scientific evidence that a causal link truly exists between food colors and hyperactivity in children, communications that suggest a link could have unintended consequences, including unnecessarily frightening consumers about safe ingredients that are consumed every day.” Interestingly, the IFIC is supported mostly by broad-based food, beverage, and agricultural industries.

While frightening consumers can have unintended, sometimes dire consequences (the vaccine-autism scare comes to mind), I wonder if erring on the side of caution wouldn't be better here – especially since the issue is food dye and protecting consumers against possible dangers isn't itself dangerous.

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