Food dyes possibly linked to ADHD in kids

February 18, 2013 9:50:20 AM PST
Dyes in our foods help make what we eat look better, but are the artificial colors causing problems in children?

No one knows what causes ADHD, but more than 5 million kids have it.

Christian Sleipnes was diagnosed when he was 4. Then, his mom read about the possible link between ADHD and food dyes.

She eliminated them from her son's diet.

"We're willing to try anything. Just staying away from things that are obviously colored, especially the red," said mother Katherine Sleipnes.

Most of the dyes are made from petroleum and used for no other purpose than to make our food look better. So, could they really be putting our kids' health at risk?

New research suggests that some food dyes trigger the release of histamines, which are part of the body's immune system. An experiment reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggest that differences in genes that control histamines might explain why some children are affected and others are not.

"What you really need to know is that these chemicals are in so many different products, whether it's Cheetos, or gummy bears, or Kool-aid. So, it's very difficult for a child that has a normal American diet to avoid using these types of dyes," said Dr. Daniel Bober of pediatric psychiatry at Joe Dimaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Fla.

An FDA advisory committee determined evidence of food dyes causing hyperactivity in kids was inconclusive.

But the European Parliament demands that foods with certain dyes contain warning labels.

"But they did say is that there are some children, who if they already have ADHD, that food dyes could exasperate their symptoms," Dr. Bober explained.

The color industry says the problem is not the dye. Representatives turned down an interview, but an official was quoted as saying, "We don't see any strong compelling data at this point that there is a neurological effect."

Christian has been dye-free for months, and his mom has noticed he's more focused and less distracted.

Whether or not you believe there's a link between the two, the only color that matters is green. If consumers want change, they'll show it with the foods they buy.

Overseeing the safety of artificial food color was one of the reasons the FDA was founded in 1930, and it has been the focus of FDA investigations since the 1950s.

The FDA says it needs more research before making any final decisions on the affects of food dyes.