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Artificial food dyes and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Robin B Kanarek
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00385.x 385-391 First published online: 1 July 2011


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common behavioral disorders in children. Symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, low frustration tolerance, impulsivity, and inattention. While the biological pathways leading to ADHD are not clearly delineated, a number of genetic and environmental risk factors for the disorder are recognized. In the early 1970s, research conducted by Dr. Benjamin Feingold found that when hyperactive children were given a diet free of artificial food additives and dyes, symptoms of hyperactivity were reduced. While some clinical studies supported these findings, more rigorous empirical studies conducted over the next 20 years were less positive. As a result, research on the role of food additives in contributing to ADHD waned. In recent years, however, interest in this area has revived. In response to more recent research and public petitions, in December 2009 the British government requested that food manufacturers remove most artificial food dyes from their products. While these strictures could have positive effects on behavior, the removal of food dyes is not a panacea for ADHD, which is a multifaceted disorder with both biological and environmental underpinnings.

  • artificial food dyes
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • ADHD
  • Feingold diet
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