Food Additives and ADHD

Several peer-reviewed studies have suggested there’s a link between food additives and ADHD. In fact, there may also be links between food dye and ADHD behavior. These well-respected studies led many organizations, most importantly the FDA, to admit that further research into these connections should take place.


Source of Debate

The interest and debates over food additives and ADHD began with Dr. Ben Feingold over 30 years ago. This physician created a diet rid of food additives and food dyes and noticed that ADHD children who had hyperactive symptoms calmed down significantly.

These results were revolutionary until critics began questioning the validity of such results. Even now, some physicians and researchers as well as the FDA find it difficult to conclude that food additives exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD.


Increase in ADHD Behavior from Food Additives

Generally, peer-reviewed studies have shown that when children ingested a food additive or dye, an increase in ADHD behavior, such as hyperactivity, occurred.

One study in particular, from the University of Southampton, examined 1873 preschool and school-age children and found that children who drank a beverage filled with a food additive/dye had an increase in ADHD symptoms compared to those children who drank a placebo drink. When the effects of the drink wore off, parents also noted a decrease in the ADHD behavior.


Specific Food Additives

Studies like the UK study mentioned above tested several different types of food additives that are found in high sugar and processed foods. Most of these food additives were food dyes such as carmoisine (E122), ponceau 4R (E124), and tartrazine, allura red, and quinoline yellow.

Scientists also added the preservative sodium benzoate. In response to the results of this study, the UK Food Standards Agency issued a warning that parents who have children with ADHD should eliminate foods that contained food additives. 


FDA Involvement in ADHD Research

Over the years of ADHD research and its link to food additives, the FDA seemed hesitant to agree that a link between the two existed. In September 2010, an ADHD Watch Dog group named the Center for Science in the Public Interest, created a Washington D.C. petition to eliminate certain food dyes, including Yellow. No. 5, an additive found in popular macaroni-n-cheese mixes. The FDA rejected elimination of these foods at the time, but finally relented less than a year later.


Innovative Research

One motivating factor into the FDA changing their viewpoints was a study performed by Dr. Lidy Pessler of the ADHD Centre in the Netherlands. In this study, Pessler removed all food additives, dyes, and allergic foods from children with ADHD.

In their place, she supplemented it with healthy meats, vegetables, and rice. She noticed a reduction in ADHD symptoms such as feeling distracted and forgetful.  She found that 64% of children experienced a reduction in such symptoms.


Parents, Doctors, Food Additives, and ADHD

Parents should discuss current research with their child’s doctor to stay current on the latest findings. Introducing a restrictive diet similar to Pessler and adding different foods slowly may help identify food-causing ADHD type behavior.

Parents could make a note of these foods before talking with the child’s allergist to allow for a complete and proper diagnosis. Physicians may order a test that assesses for food allergies to provide comprehensive information on children with ADHD.

Parents do not have to feel that they must medicate their children when it comes to ADHD. Often times, dietary changes may be all that is needed to reduce or eliminate symptoms of ADHD.

There are also some vitamin/mineral/herbal formulas available on the market that many families have found to help with hyperactivity and focus problems. focus formula is a supplement designed specifically to address these types of issues in both children and adults.

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