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Food Additives and Attention Deficit Disorder


Can food additives increase your symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder? For years there has been anecdotal evidence that people with Attention Deficit Disorder, especially children, are affected by additives in food. Stories are told of children who become hyperactive after eating hot dogs or breakfast cereal. Parents wonder whether the sugar in candy or the coloring is to blame for their childís sudden burst of hyperactivity. Health professionals develop diets to help people manage the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. These diets limit foods with coloring and other additives. A story that was touted in 2011 seemed to support the idea that food additives increased hyperactivity in children with Attention Deficit Disorder. Is this true?

The popular press latched onto a story published in the Lancet in 2007, which was a follow-up to an earlier study in 2004. Both British studies looked at the effects of artificial food colors and other food additives (AFCA) in children.

The 2004 report was limited to three-year-old subjects. The later study added 8/9 year-old children. Adults were not studied. The children who were enrolled in the study did not have ADD/ADHD. Three drinks were used in the study. The control drink, also called the placebo, which was a juice drink without preservative or food coloring, looked just like the drinks that were being studied. Drink Mix A had sodium benzoate, a preservative that is widely used in extending the shelf life of foods, tartrazine, ponceau, carmoisine, and sunset yellow. Drink Mix B also contained sodium benzoate, sunset yellow, and carmoisine. It included quinoline yellow and allura red.

Studentsí behaviors were rated by teachers, parents, and specially trained graduate students. Attention was paid to inter-rater agreement. This is a study term that means more than one rater, or observer, agrees on what they are seeing when they are looking at the same thing.

What did the study find? Drink Mix A had an effect on the level of hyperactivity in the three-year-olds. The placebo and Drink Mix B did not seem to do so. In the older children, the placebo did not have an effect either. With this group, they were negatively impacted, by hyperactivity, that occurred after consuming Drink Mix A and/or Drink Mix B.

Does this mean that AFCA causes Attention Deficit Disorder? No. Most ADD/ADHD is genetic, although environment affects the expression of the genes. Can AFCA influence hyperactivity? It appears that it might, and not just for children with ADD/ADHD. The study, of children without Attention Deficit Disorder, was careful to conclude that there seems to be a link between artificial coloring and other additives and hyperactive behavior. Further studies are needed to delineate what causes the hyperactivity. It is not known whether the cause is the colorings, a combination of colorings, or the preservative. Perhaps these additives work together to cause this hyperactivity. At this point, nobody knows for sure.

What are the implications for Attention Deficit Disorder? If you or your children have difficulty with hyperactivity after consuming foods or beverages with artificial colors, additives, or preservatives, listen to your bodyís signals. Pay attention to what it is telling you. Eliminate that food or foods from your diet. Then, evaluate how you feel.

In general it is a good idea to eat a diet that is low in refined sugar and artificial products. Limit saturated and trans-fats. Eat more whole foods and foods that are nutrient rich. Get your daily fiber. While organic foods can be more expensive there are some that it is important to buy organic, since those types of foods can have a lot of residue from pesticides.

It is hard to get pesticides out of leafy green vegetables. The pesticide goes below the surface, so you canít just wash it off. The same is true for berries. Pesticides accumulate in the fatty tissue of meat. If the meat that you want to serve is a fattier cut, then buy organic, or serve a cut that is lower in fat. Milk can also accumulate pesticides. Drink organic milk. If you canít afford organic foods for the whole family, serve the organic foods to the youngest children, since pesticides have the most harmful effects on them.

Studies are starting to suggest that there might be a group of people who are extremely sensitive to the effects of food additives. Until there is more definitive research, prudence would suggest that a conservative approach to food additives could be helpful in managing hyperactivity. You donít have to run out and spend thousands of dollars on a special diet. Just use your creativity and problem solving skills to cut as many additives out of your diet as you can.

Resource-Here is a link to the text of the 2007 British study:

Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community


If you want some interesting information about our food supply, this book is just fascinating. Here's an Amazon link. Consider buying a used copy. Many libraries also have copies.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

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Content copyright © 2014 by Connie Mistler Davidson. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Connie Mistler Davidson. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Connie Mistler Davidson for details.

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