Common Food Additives Shown to Raise Hyperactivity

Artificial colors and preservatives in many children's foods and drinks can significantly increase hyperactive behavior, a new study reports.

Tuesday September 11th - 11:33am

Food additives can increase hyperactivity in a wide range of children, not just those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a new study.

In a carefully controlled six-week trial, researchers gave a random sample of nearly 300 three-year-old and eight- to nine-year-old children drinks containing either one of two mixes of artificial food color and sodium benzoate, a common preservative, or a placebo. The dose of additives contained in some mixes was equivalent to that in one or two servings of candy, with amounts adjusted for each age group.

The researchers, led by Jim Stevenson, of the University of Southampton in the UK, then interviewed the parents and teachers about their children's behavior, and conducted computerized tests for the eight- to nine-year-old group, to measure attention. They found that consuming additives or sodium benzoate, or both, caused shorter attention spans and significantly increased hyperactivity for both groups. Three-year-old children who had consumed doses of both additives and preservatives showed the greatest levels of hyperactivity.

Many parents of ADHD children already monitor their kids' diets to limit substances that they believe heighten inattentive, impulsive, or hyper behaviors—and past studies have suggested that ADHD kids are triggered by sugary foods—but this is the first time researchers have conclusively linked additives to hyperactivity, which can lead to learning problems at school for many children with ADHD.

It's not known which specific additives caused the changes in behavior, but the researchers say more investigation in future studies can help pinpoint them.

The findings are published in a September issue of the British medical journal, The Lancet.

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