ADHD, Food Additive Link Confirmed by British ResearchersSep 7, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) has long been thought to have a connection with additives common in so many of the foods children eat and drink. Now, a new study has found a direct link between the two. The results of this startling study have already prompted one nation’s government to warn parents that food additives could lead to or worsen ADHD symptoms in children.
According to the National Institutes of Health, ADHD is a condition that becomes apparent in some children in the preschool and early school years. It is hard for these children to control their behavior and pay attention. Children with ADHD are often given medications like Ritalin, many of which have dangerous side effects. It is estimated that between 3 and 5 percent of children in the US have ADHD. But some studies have suggested that number is too conservative. Many believe that ADHD is on the rise, and the latest figures from the American Society of Pediatrics suggest that 12 percent of US children suffer from this disorder. The increasing use of food additives over the last several decades is often cited as a possible cause of this epidemic.
Now research published in the September 6 issue of The Lancet suggests these suspicions could be correct. The study was conducted by British researches at the University of Southhampton and involved 297 children. Some of the children were given drinks that contained ingredients commonly found in sodas, such as artificial food coloring and additives like sodium benzoate. The amounts of the additives were similar to what is normally found in a serving or two of candy. Other children were given drinks without additives, and the behavior between the groups was compared. The study was conducted over six weeks, and researchers found that the children who had additives in their drinks showed many more symptoms of ADHD than those who did not receive additives. The children given additives also had shorter attention spans.
The additives used in the study are typically found in many snack foods and drinks that children are likely to consume every day. They included a number of colorings such as sunset yellow E110, found in fruity drinks; carmoisine E122, a red coloring found in jams; and tartrazine E102 used in lollipops. The drinks also included sodium benzoate, a preservative used in sodas and fruit drinks that has been linked to cancer. While the colorants could be removed from products without changing their tastes, the same cannot be said for sodium benzoate, which is used to keep products fresher longer.
The study has prompted the British government’s Food Standards Agency to issue new warnings about food additives and ADHD. A message on the agency’s Website says in part: “Parents of children showing signs of hyperactivity are being advised that cutting out certain artificial food colors from their diets might have some beneficial effects on their behavior.” The British Food Standards Agency funded the ADHD additive study.
But while there appears to be some connection between food additives and ADHD, researchers cautioned that such chemicals alone could not account for all instances of the disorder. For instance children are far less physically active than they were 20 years ago, and such a lack of outlets for physical energy could translate to ADHD symptoms. Genetic factors, upbringing and even premature birth can contribute to ADHD.
But this new study will undoubtedly provide valuable guidance to parents and doctors trying to cope with ADHD in children. A combination of an additive free-diet and increased physical activity could help temper the symptoms of ADHD in many children.