What does the research say about the relationship between food additives and ADHD?
Answer From David C. Agerter, 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.
Sept. 28, 2017
David C. Agerter, M.D
See more Expert Answers
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- Pelsser LM, et al. Diet and ADHD, reviewing the evidence: A systematic review of meta-analyses of double-blind placebo-controlled trials evaluating the efficacy of diet interventions on the behavior of children with ADHD. PLOS One. 2017;12:e0169277.
- Ghanizadeh A, et al. The effect of dietary education on ADHD, a randomized controlled clinical trial. Annals of General Psychiatry. 2015;14:12.
- Overview of food ingredients, additives and colors. International Food Information Council Foundation and U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm094211.htm. Accessed Sept. 17, 2017.
- Krull KR. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: Epidemiology and pathogenesis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Sept. 18, 2017.
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- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines. Accessed Sept. 18, 2017.
- Krull KR. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: Overview of treatment and prognosis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Sept. 18, 2017.
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