Food Additives May Affect Kids' Hyperactivity
Food Coloring and Preservatives May Increase Hyperactivity in Children, but Evidence Not Conclusive
WebMD News Archive
The Food Additive-Hyperactivity Link continued...
But what Warner says is unique about this study is that they
found an effect of food additives on non-hyperactive children as well as those
with existing behavior problems.
"All children had small shifts in their behavior in the
same direction when exposed to the additives," Warner tells WebMD. "If
the children are already normal, then that's not a major issue. But if they've
already got rather difficult behavior, that might be the final straw that makes
it totally unacceptable."
New Study Adds to Debate
In this study, published in the June issue of the Archives
of Disease in Childhood, researchers looked at the behavioral effects of
removing and then adding back artificial food colorings and preservatives from
the diets of 277 children living on the Isle of Wight in the U.K.
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.