What does the research say about the relationship between food additives and ADHD?
Answers from John E. Huxsahl, M.D.
There's no evidence that food additives cause attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but some studies show that certain food colorings and preservatives may increase hyperactive behavior in some children. Because several studies have looked at a combination of food additives and their possible effects on hyperactivity and ADHD, it isn't clear which additives might affect behavior.
Food additives that may increase hyperactive behavior include:
- Sodium benzoate
- FD&C Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow)
- D&C Yellow No. 10 (quinoline yellow)
- FD&C Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine)
- FD&C Red No.40 (allura red)
The British government has requested that food manufacturers remove most artificial food dyes from their products. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that FD&C Yellow No. 5 be clearly labeled on food packaging along with other ingredients. But many colorings and food additives don't require labeling. The FDA's food advisory committee has determined that studies to date have not proved a link between food colorings and hyperactive behavior. More research is needed regarding whether limiting certain foods helps prevent hyperactivity and ADHD symptoms.
Talk with your child's doctor about the pros and cons of trying an elimination diet to see if it makes a difference. Make sure your doctor or a dietitian helps supervise the diet plan, however. A diet that eliminates too many foods can be unhealthy because it may lack necessary vitamins and nutrients.
The approach for your child's 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 fish, flaxseed and other foods.
Oct. 12, 2011
John E. Huxsahl, M.D.
See more Expert Answers
- Krull KR. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: Epidemiology and pathogenesis. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Sept. 14, 2011.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/complete-index.shtml#pub5. Accessed Sept. 14, 2011.
- Food ingredients and colors. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/food/foodingredientspackaging/ucm094211.htm. Accessed Sept. 14, 2011.
- Krull KR. Overview of the treatment and prognosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Sept. 14, 2011.
- Weber W, et al. Complementary and alternative medical therapies for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism. Pediatric Clinics of North America. 2007;54:983.
- Kanarek RB. Artificial food dyes and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutrition Reviews. 2011;69:385.