Food Additives May Affect Kids' Hyperactivity
Food Coloring and Preservatives May Increase Hyperactivity in Children, but Evidence Not Conclusive
New Study Adds to Debate continued...
During the study, the children ate a strict diet free of food
additives for one week. In the following three weeks, the children drank a
fruit juice drink supplemented with 20 mg of food colorings and 45 mg of sodium
benzoate (a food preservative commonly used in fruit drinks and carbonated
beverages) or a placebo fruit drink each day on alternate weeks in addition to
the food additive-free diet.
Neither the parents nor the children knew which beverage
contained the additives, and the beverages were indistinguishable in appearance
and taste. The children's behavior was evaluated before the study began and
assessed in clinical tests and by the parents throughout the study.
The study showed that the parents reported significantly more
disruptive behavior during the periods when the children drank the beverage
containing additives, and there was a reduction in hyperactive behavior once
the child stopped drinking the beverage.
But the clinical tests showed no increases in hyperactivity
during these periods.
Researchers say the parents' ratings may be more sensitive to
changes in behavior because parents experience their child's behavior over a
longer period of time and in more varied settings and under less optimal
conditions than in a clinical evaluation. They say that in trials looking at
the effects of medications to treat ADHD, parents typically report the largest
benefits of the drugs.
The study also showed that children with severe hyperactivity
were no more or less likely to respond to the food additives than those with
milder behavioral problems.
"If this can be replicated, there may be a significant
public health message that we need to change people's perception of food, that
it doesn't need to be highly colored to be nutritious," says Warner.
Finding a Diet to Fight Hyperactivity
Aside from the preservative and food colorings examined by this
study, Schnoll says many other foods are commonly implicated in triggering
hyperactive behavior and allergic reactions in children. They include
chocolate, cow's milk, eggs, oranges, sugar, and wheat.
That's why she says it's so difficult to do these types of
studies well -- it's hard to take out only one or two things from the diet and
come up with what causes the problems in behavior.
Instead, Schnoll recommends a "few foods" or
"elimination" diet for children with hyperactivity problems to
determine if food reactions are playing a role in their behavior. The diet
includes only a few foods that do not commonly cause allergic reactions, such
as chicken, lamb, bananas, pears, rice, and potatoes.
The child stays on this diet for two weeks, and then the
parents can start adding foods one by one back into diet and monitor for
allergic reactions or changes in behavior.
"In all studies I have seen, this is best approach where
you can actually see kids react after eating various certain foods," says