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ADHD Causes: Food Additives

Researchers have always tried to understand why attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has become so widespread among children since the late 20th century. Although being noisy and dreamy are normal childhood behaviors, these have never affected children to a debilitating degree before.  In the 1960's, Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a well-known allergologist, discovered that many childhood behavioral problems could be exacerbated, or even caused, by exposure to food additives.  Food additives are substances added to food for specific purposes – for instance, to preserve or color food.  Food additives usually go through rigorous approval protocols, and are only used if experts decide that they are safe.  However, these experts have not paid attention to the relationship between food additives, behavior, and health.  Children exhibit different reactions to certain additives, just as some children have allergic reactions to certain foods.  These reactions may include asthma attacks, rash, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention problems.  

Food additives are certainly not new, but Dr. Feingold discovered that children in the 1960's consumed more of them than children in previous decades.  And because food manufacturers constantly innovate and create new products, a typical child in the Western world today is exposed to food additives on a daily basis.  Listed below are some of the food additives known to affect children with ADHD.

Food coloring

Did you know that the pretty colors that make gelatin green, orange soda orange, and cotton candy pink are derived from petroleum, which is also the source of gasoline?  You'll often find food colorings on ingredient labels listed as Red 40, Yellow 5, and so on.  The label on the ingredients might also indicate FD&C before the number.  This stands for "Food, Drug, and Cosmetics," which means that this dye is safe to use for food, drugs, and cosmetics.  If a number is listed as D&C, it means that the dye is safe for medicine and cosmetics, but not for food.

A study funded by the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency in 2007 tested 300 children with ADHD, and their findings stirred a lot of controversy in the medical world.  According to their study, the children displayed varying degrees of hyperactive behavior after they drank fruit juice drinks containing a number of preservatives and food colorings.  The food colorings included in the drinks were sunset yellow, quinoline yellow, and allura red; additives such as tartrazine, sodium benzoate, and carmoisine were also found in the drinks.  Although the study was unable to identify which particular additives affected the children's behavior, the researchers concluded that artificial food colorings and chemical preservatives do worsen the symptoms of ADHD in children.

Artificial flavorings

These are natural and synthetic chemicals used to enhance or add flavor to food.  Artificial flavorings may be made out of hundreds of different chemicals, and there are no restrictions on what a manufacturer can use to flavor food.  One source for vanilla flavor or vanillin is the waste of paper mills.  In fact, some food companies build their factories next to paper mills to turn the undesirable waste product into imitation flavoring, which is then widely used in cookies, candy, and other food items. 

Artificial preservatives: BHA, BHT, and TBHQ

These initials name three widely used preservatives in foods found in the United States. Like food colorings, they are based on petroleum, and are often listed among the ingredients on food labels.  Yet they are a crucial component to preserving food, because they serve as anti-oxidants, which keep the fat in foods from oxidizing or spoiling.  Although there are many natural anti-oxidants available, they are more expensive than the chemical versions. 

If you think food additives may be triggering or worsening your child's ADHD, try removing them from his or her diet. Many parents have noticed remarkable improvements in their children's behavior once they stopped consuming foods with artificial additives.  Ask the advice of a nutritionist or a holistic health care practitioner, or check out the UnRitalin Solution before trying an ADHD diet.