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Food Additives Cause ADHD in Children & Adults

Updated on January 21, 2017
Pamela99 profile image

After 22 years as a RN, I have been writing about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise and life style are all important.

Normal Active Child

Girl Playing Soccer
Girl Playing Soccer

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms.

There are several areas of research trying to find the cause of the increasing problem of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children. First, how is ADHD diagnosed?

Things to watch for with children that have ADHD:

  • Fidgeting and squirming in their seats at school or home
  • Talking nonstop
  • Running around often touching anything and everything in sight
  • Can't sit still at dinner, in school or even while playing a game or being read a story
  • Constantly being in motion
  • Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities.

Some children are very impulsive and shout out inappropriate comments and they tend to be very impatient as well. They don't take turns with others well or wait in line patiently. They think nothing of interrupting other people's activities.

Food Additives and ADHD - New Study

Research Studies with Food Additives

According to Mayo Clinic, there is no evidence that food colorings and preservatives may cause or worsen hyperactive behavior in some children. Several studies looked at a combination of food additives, and there effect is not clear as to which additives may affect behavior.

Food additives that may increase hyperactive behavior include:

  • Sodium benzoate
  • FD&C Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow)
  • D&C Yellow No. 10 (quinoline yellow)
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine)
  • FD&C Red No.40 (allura red)

The FD&C requires that FD & C Yellow No. 6 be labeled on all foods. It is typically used in beverages, candy, ice cream, custards and other food.

In a newly published editorial appearing in BMJ , pediatrics professor Andrew Kemp, MD, of the University of Sydney, called for removal of food additives from the diet to be part of standard initial treatment for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Dr. Kemp cited a recent controlled trial study which showed an increase in hyperactivity among children without ADHD who were fed a diet high in food colorings and the preservative sodium benzoate.

Last February, editors of the American Academy of Pediatrics publication AAP Grand Rounds and they cited the same study as evidence that it is time to revisit the issue.

ADHD Warning - Nutrition by Natalie

Studies Seem to Show Mixed Results

The Feingold Program is another study conducting double blind studies to see if there is a link between artificial food coloring and ADD. The result again was inconclusive as a general rule. Different children reacted differently to specific food and additives. An elimination diet was the most effective way to see how a child's behavior changed.

On the other hand, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported that food additives and/or sodium benzoate (which is a commonly used preservative in soft drinks) may indeed increase hyperactive behavior in children. According to the World of Psychology the list of possibilities that cause ADHD seems to grow everyday and according to their website some additives found in popular soft drinks may play a role.

One of the additives, sodium benzoate, has been linked to cell damage in a previous study, and to an increased for cancer. Sodium benzoate is found in Coca-Cola, Pepsi Max and Diet Pepsi, and in many fruit drinks.

Other additives assessed in the study include a number of colorings – sunset yellow (E110), found in fruity drinks; carmoisine (E122), a red coloring often added to jams; ponceau 4R (E124), a red food coloring; tartrazine (E102), found in lollipops and carbonated drinks; quinoline yellow E104), a food coloring; and allura red AC (E129), and orange-red food dye.

More research is needed to determine if food coloring actually cause or increase symptoms of ADD. If you notice your child's behavior changes for the worse after eating aparticular food, than the obvious choice is to eliminate that particular food. Food additives in themselves have not been found to cause or even significantly contribute to the symptoms of ADHD as the treatment of this condition is dependent on many other factors.

The approach for your child's 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 fish, flaxseed and other foods.


In summary, it seems the evidence is contradictory as to the effect of food additives on hyperactivity. It would seem wise to avoid sodium benzoate and FD&C Yellow Dye No. 6. Other than that, it seems obviously, more research needs to be completed for concrete proof.

© 2010 Pamela Oglesby


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  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    teachermum, I sure hope the diet gives you the answers you seek. I wish you the best for your family and I appreciate your comments.

  • teachermum1967 profile image

    teachermum1967 5 years ago

    Great article, our son has just been diagnosed with autism but we're wondering if it is more like ADHD so we're to analyse our diet after reading your article.


  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    Chrissy, These problems with your grandson are heartbreaking. You would think the FDA would ban the use of the E211, etc. products. So many children and adults suffer from AHDH, and I have a nephew which has the problem which has given him great difficulty with employment. We do need to get the word out. I really appreciate your sharing your story and wish the best for your daughter and grandson.

  • profile image

    chrissy stewart 6 years ago

    My Grandson has just been diagnosed with Fine and Gross Motor developmental delays as well as SPD(Sensory processing disorder) a neurological disorder. The medical bills are enormous fo rmy daughter..Neurologist, occupational therapist, podiatrist, pedatrician and phychologist. We new from around 12 months something was not right but couldn't work out what it was , it wasn't until he went to pre school they alerted my daughter to possibilities..she had been crying out for help for the last 3 years...the behavioural optometrist said 'he is not a naughty boy' he simple cant process issues like we do....everything is coming at him at once...the tv noise...the vacumn cleaner , people talking ..he cant shut off each one like we can...a trip in the car or to the shops is a nightmare...he is all over the place..if he has foods with additives in them we have noticed he if 'of fthe wall' even a small amount of fizzy drink sets him off..he climbs the furniture ..runs around out of control...naughty behavious..cruel...and just cant daughter is buying things as much as possible with out E210 to 215 in them especiall 211. google E211 and its mind boggling how bad it is and how many foods have it in them.

    As parents and grandparents we need to lobby government to look into this..these additives have been banned in the UK.

    I feel many children with ADHD possibly could also be reacting to these additives.

    we need to cry out to Julia and her government to look into this.


  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

    Katiem, Its a shame there are not more moms like you although I think awareness is growing. Proper nutrition is so important for growing children. Thanks for your comment.

  • katiem2 profile image

    katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

    Pamela, What an amazing message, I feel this to be true. This is a big part of the reason I make certain my kids have real, natural and organic (when a choice) fresh fruits and veggies on hand. If it's there they always choose it first! Thanks and Peace :)

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 8 years ago from United States

    BKCreative, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and I agree with you. We didn't see all these diseases when we were children. Thanks for your comments.

  • BkCreative profile image

    BkCreative 8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

    Great information and we know without a doubt now that we are feeding our children toxic garbage. How can they not be affected? I've been around forever and children have never been so sick, so disabled.

    Thanks for keeping this information out there! We have to effect change.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 8 years ago from United States

    Rossimobis, Thank you so much for a lovely comment.

  • Rossimobis profile image

    Chibuzo Melvin Mobis 8 years ago from Biafra

    Great hub Pamela99,in Biafra,we eat not raw but fresh,no preservatives, we have the palm wine,check it out if you ever get to me (Thicker than).You concluded this hub with a point and that is what differs a professional from an amateur.You are a professional and i learned from you today.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 8 years ago from United States

    Michael Jay, Thanks so much for your comment. I don't know about the expert status, but I do a lot of research and it is an interest of mine.

  • Michael Jay profile image

    Michael Jay 8 years ago

    You're a health hub expert, Pamela! Two thumbs up! You keep on sharing great information. The details about food additives you have here are really useful especially for parents.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 8 years ago from United States

    Thanks you all so much for your comments. It seems like everyone is already knowledgeable about this problem. I don't understand why it is legal for companies to use products that are harmful to us when they want to control every other thing in our lives. Carolina, that is scary to know the danger of these additives.

    Ictodd, I'm glad to know you son is okay now. It is tough for parents. Some people tried to tell me my 3rd son (many years ago) was hyper (not the school, but well-meaning?? friends), but he was just an active boy and did fine in school, except he talked too much. He still made good grades and played nice, etc. He is still the life of the party also. Sometimes children get put on drugs they don't need and I'm glad I didn't do that.

  • lctodd1947 profile image

    lctodd1947 8 years ago from USA

    Pam, very good article. I am very familiar with this, my son who is now 39 was hyper and we did everything possible trying to help him. I could not stand to see him medicated and I tried coffee and everything but it was when this was not so well known. He is more settled now and does not have the issues as he had as a child. It is something that is hard for a parent. This is funny and I have to tell it. He and his Dad were cleaning off the yard, racking leaves and burning them. Keith found a fire cracker, lit it and stuck it in his Dad's pants when he bent can just guess the results of that. It was funny but it could have been a child. He just did not see the danger. He is fine now...

  • Ann Nonymous profile image

    Ann Nonymous 8 years ago from Virginia

    I definitely am of the opinion that this is highly probable! Thanks for a great hub, pamela! Well done!

  • habee profile image

    Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

    Scary! Is anything safe any more?? Great hub!

  • shazwellyn profile image

    shazwellyn 8 years ago from Great Britain

    What a great hub, easily readable and informative. Thanks Pamela!:)

  • carolina muscle profile image

    carolina muscle 8 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

    Many of these additives are so dangerous, they couldn't be sold by themselves as supplements... but corporations can use them freely in the food supply. great post!

  • JannyC profile image

    JannyC 8 years ago

    Informative. Im a bit worried on my son but they told me in kidergarten will he be assesed for it. Cause preschool kid attention spams are short any way. So he is going to be in Kindergarten next year so we shall see how he does. I think it also is inherited cause my sister had it when it was not even known about when she was a kid. Her son had issues too and was on medication. I know my sons father had learning disabilities so I think he got his problems from him.

  • blackmarx profile image

    blackmarx 8 years ago from Rice Lake, WI

    wonderful work! I always suspected food additive to be the cause of these disorders and others.

  • Support Med. profile image

    Support Med. 8 years ago from Michigan

    Interesting article. Additives are definitely something we have to watch for. Except for the color 'red', I was not aware that food coloring was being researched. Some years ago, I heard that the presence of red in beverage coloring could contain some type of 'bug'. It was on some show that I watched some years ago. Yucy! to think that we are ingesting these things, and whatever else may be involved that may be dangerously affecting ourselves and our children. Thanks for the alert.

  • breakfastpop profile image

    breakfastpop 8 years ago

    Pamela, this is a very important hub. I am going to pass this along to my daughters.

  • angela_michelle profile image

    Angela Michelle Schultz 8 years ago from United States

    I think this is very possible. A friend just read a book called, "Is this your child." About children and food allergies. Even some food allergies can cause similar behaviors.

  • GPAGE profile image

    GPAGE 8 years ago from California

    Pamela....when a doctor tried to put my nephew on medication for this, my sister decided to change his diet first. He had some sort of a "twitch" and he was diagnosed as having ADHD. As soon as she changed his diet and got rid of food colorings and other irritants, the twitch disappeared and he changed so much that there was no need for medication. It really makes you think about whether a lot of these diagnosis are because of a child's diet. Best, G

  • sheila b. profile image

    sheila b. 8 years ago

    I certainly hope you enjou your cruise. Sun and water, how nice to think about. As for the additives, I think there's even more that're causing various reactions, including childhood ovesity. I read labels on foods and put them back on the shelf. Too many chemicals.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 8 years ago from United States

    Thank you all for your comments.

  • Amber Allen profile image

    Amber Allen 8 years ago

    Hi Pam

    An informative hub on a subject which I knew very little about. Well done!


  • nancy_30 profile image

    nancy_30 8 years ago from Georgia

    Great hub. My sister's two boys were diagnosed with ADHD. The teachers wanted her to get her youngest son on medication because he was disrupting school. She got him medicated and she didn't like the results. He would just sit around and not do anything and was really quite. So she took him of the medicine and is now homeschooling him.

  • alexandriaruthk profile image

    alexandriaruthk 8 years ago from US

    hi Pam, this is nice article, you always come up with something interesting scpecially for a mom like me, thank you!

  • FitnezzJim profile image

    FitnezzJim 8 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

    The rise in numbers might be attributable to better diagnostic techniques that allow us to identify root causes. I'd not be surprised if medical technology sees an exponential increases in diagnostic and treatment capability over the next 20-30 years, as we take advantage of the knowledge gained from the Genome Project.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 8 years ago from United States

    Thanks for all your pertinent comments. I, like Missi, wonder why we have the rise in numbers. Since the topic was food additives I didn't explore other possible reasons, such as environmental allergies, etc.

  • Missi Darnell profile image

    Missi Darnell 8 years ago from Southern California

    Good article, it also makes you wonder about the rise in autism. It is difficult in this day and age to get away from additives, just about every label contains some type of coloring or additive. Even if you are growing your own organic food (if we only had the time and opportunity to do so)you have to check the label on the soil.

  • prettydarkhorse profile image

    prettydarkhorse 8 years ago from US

    good job Pam, nice one! thumnbs up! Maita

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 8 years ago from London, UK

    I fully agree with you Pamela. These additives can't be right and can't do us any good. No way. Thank you for a great hub.

  • Tom Whitworth profile image

    Tom Whitworth 8 years ago from Moundsville, WV


    My oldest grandson was diagnosed with ADHD eight years ago when he was four. My daughter had him take his medication and he wasn't allowed anything with processes sugar or food colorings. Now that he's reaching puberty he is doing much better and is almost off the medication.

  • profile image

    "Quill" 8 years ago

    Hi Pam...another winner comes alone...I spoke with a lady several weeks ago that tells me she is sensitive to so many things she is basically house bound. Environmental sickness is getting to be common place.

    People have reached a saturation point and some can not take anymore. It is so sad to think of the children and what they will face in the future.

    Very well written and a blessing to have this information...Thank You


  • Darlene Sabella profile image

    Darlene Sabella 8 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

    Oh yes, this is so true, and more things then you can imagine are caused by food preservites and artifical food color, I get real sick on foods that never bothered me before. So I can guess what it does to children, the mind needs healthy foods, this is a really excellent hub, thank you for sharing this...