Food Dyes and ADHD?

The FDA has been studying the possibility that food dyes are linked to ADD/ADHD.
According to an associated press article:

The FDA has so far said there is no proven relationship between food dyes and hyperactivity in most children. But the agency said that for “certain susceptible children,’’ hyperactivity and other behavioral problems may be exacerbated.

Another report in International Business Times reports that the FDA has said:

A FDA panel ruled that there is not proof that artificial food coloring caused hyperactivity in most children, and concluded that products containing these substances do not need to carry special warning labels or be banned altogether.

There are some studies which suggest that food dyes, and food preservatives can lead to inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. There are also newer studies which show that elimination diets may lower symptoms of ADHD. However, these are relatively early studies, and the link is not clearly established. In my office, I hear a few times a year from parents who are convinced that certain food additives impact their children significantly. And I believe them.

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Dr. Kenny

p.s. If you’d like to learn more about the research on alternatives for ADD/ADHD, you can either get a copy of my book: Attention Difference Disorder, which as a chapter on the alternative treatments, or my 2 CD audio program on Alternatives for ADHD, found here:

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  1. My 5yo son has been diagnosed with moderate/severe ADHD and ODD at a level rarely seen in a child his age. His ODD is so bad that I have scars from his meltdowns. Before going the medication route, we decided to try some naturopathic remedies. Our naturopath tested him for food sensitivities, and he scored incredibly high for sensitivities to a number of foods. We have removed eggs, soy, gluten, casein, sunflower, artificial colours/flavours/preservatives, and it has made a huge difference in his behaviour. Do to the severity of his ADHD/ODD, he still needs to be on medication, but his aggression is gone. Within a week of changing his diet, we began to notice huge changes in him. Even just a small slip-up in his diet can result in a re-emergence of his aggression. For example, he ate a friend’s granola bar at school the other day and was extremely aggressive and angry for two days, which is typical when he eats something he shouldn’t. His ADHD meds have been wonderful for his hyperactivity and attention problems, but they don’t touch the ODD. The only thing that seems to work (thus far) is the diet.

    • Laura,
      Thank you for sharing this.
      I think your story will be helpful to other people. It is a great example of how one can be ‘complementary’ with treatments – ie using medications and diet/food changes.

  2. I too believe that food dyes make a difference.
    I am a 40 year old woman with ADHD. I have a psychology and social work background, and I am not suprised that the FDA doesnt see food colourings as a problem. If people with ADHD avoided food colourings they may not need to take medications after all. This would not go down well with the FDA.
    I recently decided to quit my medications for ADHD and have had to be extra careful to avoid red and yellow food colourings. This has lead me to eat healthier foods as I am eating food that has not been processed.
    As a child I had reactions to plenty of foods that contained colourings and as a teen I even ate more of these foods as they made me feel almost drunk.
    One day I even drank 3 bottles of pop with a yellow dye in and discovered that they made me “high” so i did it more and more.
    I think that it is irresponsible of the FDA to lead people to believe that food dyes are not an issue.

  3. Thank You Dr Kenny,
    One Question, How can some one tested for this if you dont have insurance, and could you please tell me if? this a Disabilaty??

  4. This concerns me greatly. My son is terribly sensitive to Red 40. He becomes impulsive, moody, wild (putting it mildly), edgy and he feels like a live electric wire.. He gets headaches, stomach aches and if he has eaten a substantial amount (Jelly belly Red Jelly Beans or Twizzlers), he throws up. He was diagnosed with ADHD and was put on Ritalin when he was young, but we kept getting calls from school that after lunch his medication seemed to wear off. (Drinks at lunch was Red fruit punch) After a party where I knew he had eaten a load of Twizzlers, he went wild. My husband got this sudden thought that maybe it was the Red 40. We took him off Red 40 and his behavior calmed down, so much so that ,after a couple days, we took him off the Ritalin and sent him to school. Thereafter we got no complaints from his teachers and no calls from this school. This happened 3 years ago, and he has not needed Ritalin. As soon as he eats Red 40. I know it, even if he admits to eating sprinklers on a cake.
    However, he gets the same symptoms after eating WATERMELON. Does water melon have food dye injected in it. All my research comes up blank, almost like a closely guarded secret, but his behavior says otherwise.
    After the watermelons blew up in China from overabundance of growth hormone – this idea of Food Coloring injected into fruit has become more possible. Is there any

    • Riki -
      I too believe that watermelon has red 40 injected into it. I cut up watermelons daily and put them into those plastic containers. I’ve noticed that the containers come back with a red film on them which is difficult if not impossible to clean off. I too have not had any success obtaining an answer to this, and agree with you that watermelon is injected with food color. The red stained plastic containers tell the truth!

      • To Susan.
        How would we find out. Remember the news item about watermelons exploding in China or Japan (I cannot quite remember which) as a result of too much injected growth hormone. I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but what is being put in our fruits and vegetables. My son loves watermelon, and he really eats so little fruits and vegetables, I would hate to cut out watermelon from his diet.

  5. My 13 year old son with adhd reacts to red dyes and sugar poorly. Red licorice and cinamon candy hearts cause off the wall hyperactivity and emotional meltdowns. It’s like he has taken a drug.

    My 10 year old son and myself also have adhd and it does not affect us.

    I think some individuals have a sensitivity and some don’t.

  6. I am delighted to hear success stories from families that make a concerted effort to pay increased attention to healthy food choices. We have too. The one precaution that I will suggest is that there are so many accumulative sources of toxins in our diet, whether it is source from a plant, exposure during shipping and handling or at the consumers end of the food chain. Red dye is certainly not the only culprit. Did you know that many imported foods are required to fumigated at some point on their journey? Support you local food growers because you know where the food originated.

  7. Food dyes sure do bother children–all children. The Southampton in 2007 showed that. A friend testified at the FDA Hearings. What she posted bout it is at www.

  8. I found all of the above to be true for my son as well. He tested intolerant to gluten, dairy, garlic, citrus, and turkey. His aggression died down a lot when we removed these foods and dyes and preservatives like sodium benzonate. Whenever definetely saw the difference if even one can of pop was allowed, he was extremely hyper and it wasn’t from the sugar, I believe it was from the sodium benzonate because he when he ate sugary items the reaction was not as severe. And preservatives are in a lot frozen foods, sauces, drinks, soups, etc. Watching his diet definetly reduced his symptoms, especially aggressive behaviour. We found if we let him have pizza once in a while, the next day he was extremely aggresive. Excessive yeast may play a factor too. Now that he is a tween it is harder to get him to stick to the diet, he wants to eat all the junk the other kids in class eat. Pizza and subs at school are not helping. We use a special gluten digestive enzyme now so he can eat more items with gluten/dairy but still keep “regular” pizza, dyes, and preservatives to a minimum.
    It doesn’t cure ADHD but I do believe it can remarkable reduce the severity of the negative behaviours. I didn’t find it helped improve working memory or executive functioning, but it does reduce hyperactivity, aggression which can help improve social skills. MB12 shots help reduce impulsivity.

  9. As we all know sugar is a HUGE contributor to my son. The dairy and dyes I don’t notice as much, but already try tp cut them out. Thank you, for all your help and info it is very helpful.

  10. My son suffers from ADHD and i decided to try alternative treatments instead of the medications. I have been seeing a Shamanic Healer/ Reiki practitioner on the Danforth for a year now and she has helped both my son and i to better cope with this disorder.

  11. My 7 year old daughter also “had” ADHD and ODD, off the charts oppositional behavior and such social anxiety & sensory processing issues her pediatrician referred her to be evaluated on the Autism Spectrum.

    We took her off all dairy, added a daily probiotic and high quality fish oils. Within one week we noticed a huge improvement in her sensory and anxiety issues, her eye contact and verbal skills also improved.

    It has now been three months of no dairy and a daily probiotic. We have seen a miracle happen before our eyes. She is a different child, more happy, bubbly, and such a lovely girl. We had no idea how compromised her immune system was by the foods she was eating. She is still sensitive to the food dyes but nothing like the melt downs we had daily before the removal of dairy and the addition of the probiotic. The probiotic is KEY.

    Your digestive system controls 70% of immune function in the body. Lactose Intolerance and Milk Allergy do not always present as digestive symptoms. If you are ingesting a substance like milk that your body cannot digest, your bodies immune response to this toxin can affect virtually any part of your body. That is why we see so many puzzling and varying symptoms in ADHD and AUTISM, ASTHMA and other ALLERGIES. When your immune system is comprised you are also likely deficient in certain vital nutrients. Like Vitamin D for example….

    Artificial ingredients and hormone or GMO altered food is making our children sick. We have to speak up.

    Read “The Unhealthy Truth” by Robyn O’Brien and “Healing the New Childhood Epidemics”(Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies” by Kenneth Bock.

  12. I hear stories like Denisia’s over and over, but yet, I never hear stuff like—my son’s been on Biphenton( Ritalin, etc.) for over ten years, and it has worked wonders and has changed our life, and now he is happy, well-adjusted and graduating from….

  13. I am proof of the food dyes, I did not show as much ADHD due to eating natural foods from a garden, my parents and grandparents did not purchase food with artificial ingredients. I have been a spec. ed. teacher working with all areas of disabilities due to my personal understanding. Now I am an adult of ADHD and find it just as interesting. At one point only 20% of the ADHD’s were girls, and I happen to be one. I always say we are wired to our senses which is good for art and design and teaching. My daughter and I are both ADHD and she is a surgeon, hands on is great for ADHD but we both cant take stimulates, no tea or coke or coffee. But she drinks coffee and has had a difficult time focusing on paperwork and this takes up a lot of her family time. I would love to keep up with your research and if you need a person to help.. Please give me a call. I am definitely interested to find medications to help with this increasing growth in our society. I am an example of how ADHD was controlled somewhat by no preservatives and colors helped with my development and control of it to a degree. I always recommend for parents to watch this as well as sugars / sitmulants. Diet helps all things. It will not make it go away but does help in the process. Please keep me informed on things you have discovered. Thank you for all your help.. Susan

  14. Hi, my 12 year old son is on concerta for about 2 years (after we first tried the homeopathic way). We watch his diet closely and have a healthy diet. The one thing that triggered me to go on internet is that his very healthy appetite died when he went on Concerta (27mg). This weekend i forgot to give him the pill and watched my son with open mouth having his normal healthy appetite back….. My question is….. can we experiment in the school holidays with not giving him the concerta to see what happens…. Or should we not do so…. Dont want to juggle his balance around…… But would it harm to stop for a week? And if it occurs that he is not copying well, put him back on it?

  15. When stopping any medication, please consult with your physician!

    I’m glad you are following a healthy diet but be sure it is a natural one. Artificial dyes/flavorings/preservatives are in seemingly good foods. Reading the labels is a good start and can make a huge difference. Have you watched the video on the Feingold website? We ate what we thought was a healthy diet too, but our son still had adhd symptoms until we searched further. Who would have thought such things as toothpaste, etc. had those things in them.

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