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Can you treat ADHD by avoiding food coloring?

Robert Merki

To put it simply, there is currently no clear link between food coloring and ADHD.

Some studies have suggested a link between a more general "hyperactivity" and food coloring, which has now become a convenient scapegoat, especially for parents who want to avoid giving their children medication.

But it's not that simple. It boils down to how you want to classify it.

There is some evidence that "hyperactivity" in all children can be caused food coloring. Just look at this study:

"Elimination diets’ efficacy and mechanisms in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder"

It has been suggested that the effect of food color elimination on behavior is probably not limited to children with a diagnosis of ADHD, but rather also applies to hyperactive behavior in children more generally


The NHS has similar findings:

"Food colours and hyperactivity"

We funded research into possible links between food colours and hyperactivity in children. It found that consuming certain artificial food colours could cause increased hyperactivity in some children.


However, this isn't specifically ADHD related. If the results show all children become hyperactive, then this has nothing to do with ADHD. Furthermore, ADHD itself isn't just "hyperactivity", it's a whole host of other issues related to how the brain works.

Even if you try to draw some conclusions from this, the evidence isn't all that conclusive in the first place.

"ADHD diet: Do food additives cause hyperactivity?"

Some studies indicate that certain food colorings and preservatives may increase hyperactive behavior in some children.But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Advisory Committee determined that studies to date have not proved there's a link between food colorings and hyperactivity.


"Diet and ADHD, Reviewing the Evidence"

...further research is required for [artificial food color] elimination before advising this intervention as ADHD treatment


The evidence just isn't there to support this conclusion.

If a new study comes out and proves me wrong, I'll happily update this article. But for now, don't stress about food coloring. It's just not a significant issue for ADHD.

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