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Food Dye and ADHD

For more than 30 years, scientists have examined the relationship between food coloring and hyperactive behavior in children, but with mixed results. To date, no conclusive evidence has been found to show that food coloring causes ADHD. Some studies, though, have suggested an association between the two. Most likely, ADHD is caused by the combination of changes in brain structure, environmental factors, and heredity.

Can food dye cause hyperactivity?

A study by the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency in 2007 showed that the consumption of foods containing dyes could increase hyperactive behavior in children. In the study of 3-, 8- and 9-year-olds, children were given three different types of beverages to drink. Then their behavior was evaluated by teachers and parents.

One of the drink mixtures contained artificial food colorings, including:

  • Sunset yellow (E110)
  • Carmoisine (E122)
  • Tartrazine (E102)
  • Ponceau 4R (E124)

It also contained the preservative sodium benzoate. The second drink mixture included:

  • Quinoline yellow (E104)
  • Allura red (E129)
  • Sunset yellow
  • Carmoisine

It also had sodium benzoate. The third drink mixture was a placebo and contained no additives.

The researchers found that hyperactive behavior by the 8- and 9-year-olds increased with both the mixtures containing artificial coloring additives. The hyperactive behavior of 3-year-olds increased with the first beverage but not necessarily with the second. They concluded that the results show an adverse effect on behavior after consumption of the food dyes.

WebMD Medical Reference

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