Does Food Coloring Cause ADHD Symptoms?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is commonly found in children.

These children often display disruptive behavioral symptoms such as lack of the ability to focus, impulsive behaviors and they are easily frustrated.

Since they cannot sit still and focus, they often find it difficult to learn in classroom settings.

Parents have often pointed to a possible cause by additives such as preservatives and chemicals used to add color to foods.

Although food additives and coloring agents are often suspect, keep in mind that there are many other causes. Even many experts concede that not all the causes are known.

Let's see what scientific studies have to say about the possible link between food additives and ADHD symptoms...

Research studies on ADHD symptoms and food coloring

It was known from studies back in 1970 that removing food dyes and additives reduced ADHD symptoms in some children. This study was published by Dr. Feingold.

In Britain, for example, the government asked that manufacturers eliminate food dyes in their food products. Although food dyes are a potential cause in aggravating ADHD symptoms, experts are aware that food additives are just one of many possible cause.

This was the conclusion from the author of the paper published below:

food coloring and adhd sympmtoms paper image 1

What does thirty-five years of research study show?

With over three decades of combined research studies, it is shown that some children are highly sensitive to the effects of food coloring agents. Indeed, in children with an established hypersensitivity to food dyes, up to 90% of them will react when exposed to 100 mg of food coloring.

Moreover, these same subgroup of children also seem to be sensitive to foods such as eggs, wheat, corn, milk and chocolate.

And it is also shown that some children also have similar heighten ADHD symptoms when exposed to food preservatives such as benzoates.

The conclusion, published in the paper referenced below, is that an elimination diet is something worth considering.

attention deficit coloring additives picture 2

However, this is not to suggest that by eliminating food additives, that the child will be completely cured of ADHD. This is hardly the case since ADHD involves neurotransmitter imbalance in the brain as well.

As another example, some parents have pointed out that giving children coffee to reduce ADHD symptoms seemed to work well. On the other hand, other parents reported no benefits at all.

What percentage of children with ADHD are sensitive to food coloring?

It is estimated that food coloring agents may be responsible for causing 8% of ADHD symptoms in children.

However, the experts were quick to point that it was difficult to show a clear link between the cause and effect in the research studies they reviewed. They suggested that additional studies is justified to find out the truth.

The research paper for this conclusion is shown below:

additives symptoms of attention deficit research 3

Exactly how does food coloring worsen ADHD symptoms?

For those people wanting to know the exact science and chemistry as to why food coloring substances might trigger ADHD symptoms here is one possible theory.

A group of researchers showed that food coloring substances cause one type of white blood cells called basophils to release histamine. Histamine is a substance that causes allergic reactions.

Histamine caused certain genes to "turn on or off". And the effect of histamine on these genes varied from child to child.

Thus, the researchers concluded that the effects of food additives on ADHD symptoms will be different from child to child.

This is why some children get the benefits of reduced hyperactivity when they eliminate food coloring from their diet while others do not.

Here's the reference to the results from this study.

research paper review adhd image 4

Bottom line

Does food coloring cause ADHD symptoms?

It is very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to link ADHD to any one specific cause.

There are some research evidence to suggest that a small percentage of children with ADHD symptoms are much more sensitive to food color additives.

And one research study showed how food coloring agents might increase the release of histamines by the white blood cells. This in turn can activate certain genes and exacerbate ADHD symptoms.

In general from a healthy diet prospective, children with ADHD would do best if they avoid food additives and preservative.

A trial elimination diet, although tricky and time-consuming, may be helpful in ruling out food additives as a possible cause in some children.