Know Your Health

ADHD In Children – Can Food Dye Cause It?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a condition most often observed from early childhood includes symptoms such as impulsivity and hyperactivity. It can also affect adults. It is cited that many a time, children who are mistaken to be extremely naughty or showing unwillingness to share at school or home, suffer from this disorder. In adults, ADHD manifests as the inability to manage time or hold down a job. Therapy and medication are a great help to those with ADHD.

Food Dye and ADHD

ADHD is commonly attributed to changes in brain structure, environmental factors and genetics. However, in recent years a lot of studies have been conducted to determine whether there is any correlation between food dye and ADHD.

What is food dye?

Food colouring is used in many pre-packaged foods and even bakery items like coloured frosting and cupcakes, to enhance, maintain and improve the appearance of food. The FSSAI regulates the usage of food dye in India, in order to ensure safety. Most often, food dyes are artificially synthesized chemical compounds. Very few are naturally occurring.

Studies that show a significant relationship between food dye and ADHD

Food Standard Agency’s findings

In 2007, the UK’s Food Standard Agency conducted a study with 300 children of ages 3, 8 and 9 years old. The children were given three different beverages. Two drinks contained concoctions of food colourings and the third drink was a placebo and had no additives. The researchers found an increase in hyperactivity in 8 and 9-year-olds when they consumed two drinks containing artificial food colouring. The hyperactivity of the 3-year-olds increased with the first drink containing Sunset Yellow, Carmoisine, Tartrazine and Ponceau 4R. However, it did not increase with the second drink that contained Quinone Yellow, Allura Red, Sunset Yellow and Carmoisine. The research did conclude that consumption of food dyes had adverse effects on behaviour.

A study conducted at Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne 

In 1994, a 21-day double-blind, place-controlled, repeated measures study was conducted on 800 children at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne to study the effect of Tartrazine on behaviour. The study identified that 24 children who participated in the study were clearly susceptible to irritability, restlessness and sleep disturbance due to Tartrazine. With a dose greater than 10mg, the effects lasted longer.

Findings of a 2012 meta-analysis 

A meta-analysis, or a study of studies pertaining to the role of diet and food colours in ADHD, was released in 2012 (authored by Nigg JT, Lewis K, Edinger T and Falk M). The research concluded that an estimated the symptoms of 8% of children with ADHD were related to synthetic food dyes. However, the study also suggested that further research was absolutely necessary as many studies conducted earlier were susceptible to bias and were carried out in small numbers. The research also suggested that dietary restrictions are beneficial to children with ADHD and pre-packaged foods, in general, are not good for health.

In 2015, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese announced that their foods would be free of yellow dye. Although the effects of food dyes on children with ADHD are not fully studied, the age-old rule of prevention is better than cure prevails. Choosing healthier options, restrictive diets and managing sleeping and eating habits on a regular schedule seem to go a long way in mitigating the behavioural symptoms of ADHD.


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