What does the research say about the relationship between food additives and ADHD?
Answers from John E. Huxsahl, M.D.
Food additives include artificial colors, artificial sweeteners and preservatives. There's no solid evidence that food additives cause attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
However, the topic of food additives and their possible effects is controversial.
Some studies indicate that certain food colorings and preservatives may increase hyperactive behavior in some children. But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Advisory Committee determined that studies to date have not proved there's a link between food colorings and hyperactivity.
Countries differ on which food color additives, sometimes called food dyes, they'll allow in food and drinks and how they're labeled. For example, the European Union (EU) requires that foods containing certain food color additives include a statement on the label that this color "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children." The FDA only requires that FDA-certified color additives be listed on the food label.
Better research is needed to find out if limiting certain foods or food additives will help reduce hyperactivity and ADHD symptoms.
Talk with your child's doctor about the pros and cons of trying a diet that eliminates food additives to see if it makes a difference in your child's behavior. Make sure your doctor or a dietitian helps supervise the diet plan. A diet that eliminates too many foods can be unhealthy because it may lack necessary vitamins and nutrients.
The best approach for overall health and nutrition is a diet that limits sugary and processed foods and is rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids found in certain types of fish, flaxseed and other foods.
Oct. 10, 2014
John E. Huxsahl, M.D.
See more Expert Answers
- Food colours and hyperactivity. NHS Choices. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/food-additive-intolerance/pages/introduction.aspx. Accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
- Overview of food ingredients, additives & colors. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm094211.htm. Accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
- Krull KR. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: Epidemiology and pathogenesis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/complete-index.shtml#pub5. Accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
- Krull KR. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: Overview of treatment and prognosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
- Stevens LJ, et al. Mechanisms of behavioral, atopic, and other reactions to artificial food colors in children. Nutrition Reviews. 2013;71:268.
- Sonuga-Barke EJS, et al. Nonpharmacological interventions for ADHD: Systemic review and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials of dietary and psychological treatments. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2013;170:275.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/PolicyDoc.pdf. Accessed Sept. 11, 2014.
- Colligan RC (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 17, 2014.
- Huxsahl JE (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 17, 2014.