Your child eats a bag of Skittles and within an hour is bouncing off the walls (literally). Naturally, you assume the sugar is to blame. Or is it? Over two dozen studies suggest that artificial food dye is causing behavioral problems in children.
A total of nine synthetic dyes are used by food manufacturers in the US but 3 dyes (Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6) make up 90% of the market. These dyes are everywhere, from cereal to toothpaste, apple sauce to cough syrup. Just take a look at the ingredient labels of these or similar products in your home.
Removing these dyes from a child’s diet has a profound effect, about a quarter of the effect of prescribed ADHD medicine. A prestigious British medical journal has recommended that doctors use dye-free diets as a first-line treatment for some behavior disorders. One family that adopted the dye-free diet for their daughter was able to completely take her off medicine as a result. “We’ve had amazing results. She’s like a whole new child and she’s herself again.”
Warning labels for synthetic food dyes are required in much of Europe and concerns about the dyes led many manufacturers in Europe to stop using then. Certain American companies like Kellogg’s, General Mills and Kraft also completely did away with artificial dyes in their products sold overseas, though the dyes remain in their products sold to the American-market. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) voted against putting warning labels on foods containing synthetic dyes in the US. Regardless, some American stores such as Whole Foods do not sell products containing such dyes.
While the FDA has stated that it does not believe that artificial food dyes cause behavior problems in children, it does believe that food dyes may exacerbate problems in children with behavioral problems because they may have a unique intolerance to them. The agency has recently decided to reassess the safety studies related to food dyes:
“FDA’s Food Advisory Committee (FAC) (a group of advisors from outside the FDA) met on March 30-31, 2011 to consider available relevant data on the possible association between the consumption of certified color additives in food and adverse behavioral effects in children. The committee was asked to advise FDA as to what action, if any, is warranted to ensure consumer safety from the use of these color additives in food. After receiving information from FDA, experts, and stakeholders, the FAC (1) found that existing data supported FDA’s conclusion that there is not an established link between consumption of food dyes and adverse behavioral effects in children, (2) voted against the need for additional information on the product label of foods with color additives, and (3) recommended that additional safety studies be conducted. The FAC also recommended that a rigorous, comprehensive dietary exposure assessment of certified color additives be performed.
FDA currently is collecting data on the levels of color additives used in food. These data will be used to estimate dietary exposure for various populations, including children. Regarding the need for additional safety studies, FDA has begun a reassessment of the numerous safety studies conducted on certified color additives that are available in its files. Based on this evaluation, FDA will determine whether additional safety studies are needed.”