Food Additives and ADD/ADHD

A study was just released today documenting a connection between food additives and hyperactivity. It was published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. Unfortunately, one has to subscribe to access the full text of the article. However, you can read a summary of it here – in the press release.

This study tested giving children aged 3 or 8/9 a drink with food additives, and monitoring their behavior. These children did not have ADD or ADHD. The findings documented clearly that certain food additives/preservatives did increase the children’s hyperactivity. These are food dyes, and preservatives which would be found in candy, sodas, and other ‘junk food’.

While this study is important, it does not conclusively show that food additives cause ADD or ADHD. It showed an approximate 10% increase in hyperactivity when children had a significant amount of these food additives.

There is a history of eliminating food dyes and preservatives from the diets of people with ADD or ADHD. The most popular diet is the Feingold diet. This was started in the 70s/80s. You can read more about it here. This diet has been studied rigorously, and at best, it yields significant improvement for ADD/ADHD in 5% of those who follow it strictly.

What is the bottom line if you or your child has ADD or ADHD?

  1. Don’t stop medication or other treatments that you are on out of concern that the food dyes may be the complete cause and solution for this condition.
  2. The best treatments for ADD/ADHD have been shown to be combination treatments. The ideal treatments incorporate behavioral, parenting, academic strategies as well as medication. If you want to add a diet component to that, you can, but just keep it as one of the treatments in the combination.
  3. I recommend that each parent of a child with ADD or ADHD, or each adult with ADD or ADHD should consider eliminating these food additives and dyes for a short time and seeing if it makes a difference. Talk to your doctor about this, and review it as an experiment. If you are inclined to do this – go for it. If you are not – don’t. There is no imperative here, and the research data don’t show that it is a must for the treatment of ADD or ADHD.

Most of us feel that we live in a society with too many chemicals, additives and preservatives. This study shows that in children without ADD or ADHD, there is a mild increase in hyperactivity with food additives and preservatives. This does not prove that ADD or ADHD is caused by these chemicals, nor does it show that by stopping these chemicals will ADD or ADHD be treated.

This study is quite important, and hopefully more well designed studies will help to shed light on this important issue. If you want to try to use these insights to help in your treatment of ADD or ADHD, speak to your doctor or health professional.

To read Time magazine’s perspective on this issue, visit here.
[tags]ADD, ADHD, Food Additives, Hyperactivity, The Lancet, Feingold Diet[/tags]


  1. I removed all dyes & additives from my 18 mos old son, 33 yrs ago! Within 96 hrs his symptoms had disappeared. He learned to talk, slept through the night for the very first time for longer than 2 hrs and could carry a conversation longer than 10 seconds. I was in the Army and found the time to bake my own break and cook from scratch. Dr. Feinberg found the relationship 35 yrs ago. Just think how many kids could have been helped if this had not been hidden.

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