Our Kids and the Dangers of Food Additives
There remains a constant controversy over the effects of food additives on our children. It has long been assumed that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is (at least) affected by food additives. Because these food additives are usually used in combinations, it is difficult to prove a single source of danger. However, in the past few years, studies have shown that although ADHD is probably not caused by food additives, it is definitely a cause of aggravated symptoms. The preservative, sodium benzoate as well as food colorings, Yellow #6, Yellow #5, Red #40, Red #3, Orange B, Green #3, Blue #2, and Blue #1, are thought to be among those culprits.
A study carried out by the University of Southampton (Southampton, U.K.) and published in the journal The Lancet, tested three groups of approximately 300 children ages 3, 8, and 9 years old. The children were given drinks with different amounts of artificial food coloring and sodium benzoate (as compared to drinks of pure fruit juice), and their behavior was tracked over a six week period. During that time, the children did not consume any other foods containing these additives. The study showed significant behavioral changes that included over-activity, inattention, and impulsivity in those children that ingested in the drinks with the additives. Because the additives were added in combination, individual additives weren’t blamed for the behavioral changes, but it was evident that the children had been affected.
After this study was published the American Academy of Pediatricians finally came to the agreement that removing these additives from the diets of children that had been diagnosed with ADHD could be an effective treatment. Not all children react to these additives in the same manner or with the same intensity. Each case (as with any medical intervention) should be treated individually. “For the child without a medical, emotional, or environmental etiology of ADHD behaviors, a trial of a preservative-free, food coloring-free diet is a reasonable intervention".
On a personal note, as a mother, I discovered this type of reaction when I offered a single “red vine” (a licorice stick) to my then 2-1/2 year old daughter while we were at the drive-in theatre one evening. Within a short period of time, my normally calm child was literally bouncing off the walls of the car. She was jumping up and down and going crazy. She was screaming and running around. It scared me to death! She settled down after about 30 minutes (as I remember). I called my pediatrician first thing the following morning. When questioned as to what I had fed her, he told me that my little girl had reacted to the red food dye in the licorice stick. That was about 28 years ago. I know that red food dye, in particular, has been changed since then. That being said, I still see two red food colorings on the list of potential culprits! I was privy to a firsthand accounting of this type of reaction several times over the years as I raised my daughters. My husband and I adopted a little girl about 15 years ago. She had several challenges of her own, but the first thing we noticed about her was her severe hyperactivity. As a young child, she only required about 4-5 hours of sleep at night. She woke with the sun, and never walked anywhere! She was perpetual motion, with one speed – fast! Regarding food and drink, it didn’t take us long to realize we had to monitor this extremely closely. She could not handle any level of processed sugar. I learned to read labels and purchase products with all natural ingredients. Sometimes, even though my efforts were great, preservatives and such would sneak into her diet. Our FDA does not require everything be labeled with 100% of its ingredients in it! I cannot imagine why this is so, but it is.
Other foods can be detrimental to kid’s behavior. “A study published in the European Journal of Pediatrics in 1997 found that children with ADHD had changes in brain waves after being fed certain foods - about half reacted to sugar, with a smaller percentage of reactions being shown to artificial colors, wheat and milk” . Although government agencies still conclude that a diet where refined sugar, food coloring, and other preservatives are limited doesn’t really help most children with ADHD, most Moms would definitely disagree. Kids without ADHD become hyper after eating the sweet treats from the pantry. Children whose diets are often subsidized with sugary drinks, baked goods, and processed foods have a slew of health issues ranging from hyperactivity to obesity. They suffer from mental and emotional disorders. They suffer from chronic illness. “Dr. David Dugger, a pediatrician in Gautier, Mississippi, who specializes in treating ADD/ADHD, admits that studies haven't proven a link between sugar and hyperactivity, but he says poor nutrition can definitely lead to behavioral problems”. Dr. William Sears (known as "America's Pediatrician") and Lydia Thompson, authors of The ADD Book, say that while most studies have shown diet has little effect on ADD, "Try explaining this to a mother whose child goes wild after eating a Twinkie. As parents and professionals, we certainly believe in the food-mood connection in some children. Even though in the majority of cases children's diet is not the cause of the behavioral problem, it can certainly contribute to it.".
The bottom line is this: As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure the good health of our children. We cannot sit around and wait for the Government to dictate to us what is healthy and what is not. Each of our children is a special individual with unique needs. All children require healthy nutrition to grow up strong and healthy. We should take the responsibility to reduce, if not eliminate, the toxins in our children’s diets. If our child reacts badly to sugar – don’t feed them sugar! If it is artificial – it’s probably not good for them! If it’s loaded with artificial food colorings and preservatives, it doesn’t count as nutrition and is not needed by our children. The once in awhile sweet treat is great, but if that Twinkie makes your child bounce off the walls – don’t put it in their school lunch!