Food Colouring DOES NOT cause ADHD, FDA

So here is the SCIENTIFIC consensus: There is no proof that foods with artificial colorings cause hyperactivity in most children and there is no need for these foods to carry special warning labels, a government advisory panel voted Thursday. Yes, in spite of the fact that you have read in almost every newspaper that there is proof it does, those stories reflected the fact that the United States Food and Drug Administration was taking a look at this issue ....and everybody jumped the gun because it made a good story. Sad reporting, again.

The Food and Drug Administration convened this expert panel after agency scientists decided that while typical children may be unaffected by the dyes, those with behavior problems may see their symptoms worsen by eating food with synthetic color additives. Notice the word MAY.

Now this debate over artificial dyes began in the 1970s with Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a pediatric allergist from California, had success treating the symptoms of hyperactivity in some children by prescribing a diet that, among other things, eliminated foods with artificial colouring. The problem was the effect that he measured, the positive behaviour changes, were the result of parent expectations and parent / environmental changes.

Let's understand the agency conceded that some children might be negatively affected by the foods. Remember, the committee voted 8 to 6 that even a warning was not needed. So to clarify, there is SOME evidence that SOME children, children with pre-exisiting problems, are further effected by food colouring and all the rest parents worry about. Will removing these things from your child's diet make changes? Not likely. But for some children, yes. But ADHD IS NOT caused by these additives. Even with the most likely diet claims, what we are saying is that children WITH ADHD may have even bigger behaviour problems due to the effects of these additives. We are talking about very few children. If your ADHD child is reacting negatively to these additives, they are saying he or she will still have ADHD after removing them, but may not be reacting to the additive any more.

Should you control your child's diet? YES! Many children with ADHD react strongly to all sorts of environmental stimuli that has little effect on those who do not have ADHD. I have an allergy to wheat. If I eat wheat early in the morning, before anything stomach feels a little yucky. Rumbles. Noises. A little pain. Later in the day, after eating other things, wheat has no effect. Now if I were a kid with ADHD and ate wheat early in the morning, I would very likely react not just to the wheat, but react to my discomfort ...over react. /Because most kids with ADHD have low frustration tolerance. So my reaction is a reaction to my reaction.

If I had a child with ADHD (my kids are all at least 30+ now) I would, yes, avoid junk food. I would avoid soda, pop, bright green, yellow and orange stuff. But I wouldn't think my child has ADHD BECAUSE he ate some M&Ms!

This is important because so many parents put so much effort into finding a solution that is easy, fast and clear. Regretfully solutions for ADHD are none of those things. To help your child be successful you need to educate yourself (read Dr. Russell Barkley!), educate your child (there are a lot of good books to explain "differences" to children), make changes in the environment, changes in you, changes in school and behaviour expectations and consider if and when medical intervention is necessary. That needs to be determined between you and your medical doctor.

This week I have read and re-read so many postings about this FDA / Food Colouring issue that I just felt it needed to be addressed again. Most of the coverage consisted of jumping to conclusions the scientific panel did not jump to, and people reading and seeing only those parts of the story they wanted to see. The horrible state of science news reporting didn't help. Go talk to your MD. And if your worried about your child, get him or her assessed ASAP!


This blog is NOT meant to provide medical advice (did you notice how many times I told you to see an MD or a psychologist?). If you would be interested in speaking with me in my Burnaby or Vancouver office about ADHD (in either children or adults) check out my web pages at: or