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Artificial Food Additives & Colorings Linked to Hyperactivity

Since the 1970s food additives have been under the radar of toxicologists, psychiatrists, nutritionists and environmental/public health watchdog groups. In the last decade however, with what seems to be a growing set of diagnoses of hyperactivity and other childhood behavioral and diet-related disorders, interest in food additives has increased. So has the research.

Among the latest and most controversial studies, was a 2007 Southampton University done with a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with three-year olds and eight- to nine-year-olds to test for indications of hyperactivity associated with specific food additives and food colorings. The additives and colorings tested were tetrazine (FD&C yellow no. 5/European food code E102); sunset yellow (FD&C yellow no. 6/E110); quinoline yellow (FD&C Yellow No. 10/E104); carmoisine (Food Red 3/E122); and ponceau 4R (Food Red 7/E124).

Researchers recruited 153 local three-year-olds and 144 children aged eight or nine for a six-week trial and assigned them to either of two groups. One group was given regular fruit juice without additives and the second group was given a similar looking and tasting drink that contained the above-mentioned additives. The drinks were assigned anonymously and in un-marked, sealed bottles.

The drinks with the additives were further split into two groups: Mix A and Mix B. Mix A contained the same amount of artificial colorings found in a two-ounce bag of candy or two small bags of commercial ?fruit snacks.? Mix B contained the equivalent of twice that amount. Both mixes contained the same levels sodium benzoate.

The children were assessed prior to the trial for evidence of hyperactivity. The first week of the trial all of the children followed their typical diets. The following weeks, parents were asked to remove from their children?s diets all sweets and drinks with additives were and to start using the trial drink in amounts equal to that of the foods/beverages removed from their usual diets. On the even numbered weeks Mix A, Mix B, and placebo were administered in a random sequence and was blinded to the child, the parents, the teachers and the researchers. On the odd-numbered weeks all children received the placebo. At the end of the study, the children were assessed again for hyperactivity.

According to a 2007 report by the Agence France-Presse, ?Mix A had a ?significantly adverse? effect on the three-year-olds, although Mix B made no difference on this group. In the older children, both Mix A and Mix B had a strong effect.

?Overall, children who took the mix moved about 10 percent closer to the definition of being hyperactive,? lead author Jim Stevenson, a professor of psychology at the university. ?We now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours and [sodium] benzoate preservative can adversely influence the behaviour of children. However, parents should not think that simply taking these additives out of food will prevent all hyperactive disorders. We know that many other influences are at work, but this at least is one a child can avoid.??

This study was similar to a 2004 study presented in the June issue of the Archives of Diseases in Childhood, but seems to have produced more conclusive evidence for a correlation between artificial additives in food and childhood behavioral problems, leading researchers to conclude that artificial colors or a sodium benzoate preservative (or both) in the diet result in increased hyperactivity in three-year-old and eight- to nine-year-olds in the general population.

In part two, each of the food additives studied will be discussed.

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