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Synthetic food coloring has been added to processed foods since the late 1800s.  The FDA has insisted that food coloring is not harmful to children and does not cause children to have behavior issues. If you read carefully what is written on the FDA’s site it says, “The totality of scientific evidence indicates that most children have no adverse effects when consuming foods containing color additives, but some evidence suggests that certain children may be sensitive to them.” Notice it says MOST children have no adverse effects.  This means some children do.  So what does science have to say on the matter?

Just say NO to processed foods, refined carbs, and artificial food coloring! Stick with whole foods prepared at home!
Just say NO to procesed foods. Stick with whole foods prepared at home!

Concern about the use of artificial food coloring started back in the mid-1970s and one of the first articles published on the topic was in the Journal of Learning Disabilities by Dr. Feingold.  Many people swear by the Feingold Diet and how it has helped their child with behavior issues!  It is worth trying dietary interventions if you do not know what else to try but are reluctant to put your child on medication.

A more recent article published in 2004 in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics agreed with Dr. Feingold’s findings that some children are hyper-responders and suffer neurobehavioral toxicity after completing their double-blind placebo-controlled study.

In July of 2010, the European Union decided that artificial food coloring used in food products would be forced to have a warning label saying, “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”  What do they know that we do not know?  The FDA was forced to convene a commission in 2011 to study the effects of artificial food colors on children’s behaviors (both those with and without ADHD).  An article published in 2012 in Neurotherapeutics discussed the evidence submitted. The findings were artificial food coloring DOES impact SOME children both with, and without, ADHD.  Possible causes included the effects on nutrient levels, genetic vulnerability, and changes in brain activity. Yet, the FDA deemed food coloring safe.

paper was released the next year in Nutrition Review looking into other impacts from artificial food coloring to the immune system, intestinal lining, and nutrition absorption.  In 2014 the journal of Clinical Pediatricsstated the limit of food coloring allowable by the FDA had increase 5 fold between 1950 to 2012 to 68 mg/capita/day.  Keep in mind, the double-blind study found more children seemed to be impacted when 50mg/capita/day is exceeded. This means the FDA knew the impact of artificial food coloring on children yet it ignored the evidence and increased the allowable limit of artificial food coloring above the 50mg/day threshold.

In a 2017 article in the International Journal of Immunotherapy and Cancer Research, the presenters discuss all food additive Westerners consume as part of their diet including artificial food coloring.  The results were astounding! The average consumer of the Western diet eats between 8 to 10 pounds of food additives a year.  Consumption of food additives has been linked with the increase of following disorders in animals: eczemaurticariaangioedemaexfoliative dermatitisirritable bowel syndrome, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rhinitisbronchospasm, migraine, anaphylaxishyperactivityautoimmune diseases and other behavioural disorders.

The American Academy of Pediatrics finally came out with guidance concerning artificial food coloring and preservatives this year (2018)! The AAP expresses the same concerns discussed in the Journal of Immunotherapy and Cancer Research.  Westerners eat too many food additives and the doctors are concerned because an Increasing number of studies suggest some food additives can interfere with a child’s hormones, growth, and development.  Some food additives may also increase the risk of childhood obesity, rates of which have tripled since the 1970s.

Since the mid-1970s, there have been warnings about the things we put in processed foods. It started with artificial food coloring, but it has expanded to the multitude of food additives put into processed food.  Is the science completely settled on the topic? The science points to the harmful effects of eating artificial food additives and advises to stick to whole foods.  Try looking into an elimination diet if you are having issues with inattention and behavior. You will live a healthier life if you focus on eating the highest-quality foods you can afford to prepare at home, and staying away from processed foods!

All research for this article is embedded into the article’s links.  You are welcome to join us for more discussion on ADHD at our FB group, IEP/504 Assistance for parents of public school students from all over the United States, or at our homeschool group, Homeschooling Special (Needs) Kids. We also have a group for all parents and caregivers of special needs children called Special Needs Parenting Advice and Support where we discuss ALL things related to special needs care.

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