Study looks at possible link between ADHD, food dye

(CNN) – Modern medicine doesn’t know what causes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or commonly known as ADHD, but some studies say artificial food coloring plays a role. These colors are found in everything from candy and cereal to mouthwash and marshmallows. Now, a new study from Purdue University is shedding light on the possible connection.

Dylan Boller is 11-years-old. Like many other kids, he plays video games, likes Legos and enjoys playing outside. But when he was five, his mother Shannon noticed it became harder to communicate with him.

“I would be right here with him and he would just… straight through me. Like he’s right here looking at me but not with me, you know what I mean? Just zoned out elsewhere.”

After a trip to the doctor and a talk with his teacher, Dylan was diagnosed with ADHD. The disorder makes it difficult for Dylan to pay attention or control his behavior.

Since the diagnosis, Dylan has been taking medication with varying success, but Boller doesn’t like giving her son a pill.

“I feel like I’m drugging my child on a daily basis.”

So in February Boller removed as many processed ingredients from Dylan’s diet as she could. She did this after reading that some studies have linked artificial food coloring to ADHD in children.

Now a new study out of Purdue measures just how much kids consume a day.

“The dyes we’re talking about are those that have a number. They’re referred to F, D and C. Red number 3 and Red 40 and Yellow 5 and Yellow 6.”

Laura Stevens is the head researcher on that study. She found that many children could be consuming far more dyes than previously thought. AFC’s may be all over the supermarket, food companies are not required to show how much coloring goes into their products.

Without a pinpoint amount to test, researchers can’t answer the big questions: does eating AFC cause ADHD? And if so, how much is too much?

The studies that used 27 milligrams were criticized for using too little, while ones that used more than 50 were criticized for using too much.

“So we decided to see how much kids use in a day.”

Stevens’ team found a range of amounts, because it really all depends on what kids eat. Some cereals, for example, have no artificial coloring. But others, like Trix and Cap’n Crunch Oops All Berries, had levels that, in some studies, triggered ADHD symptoms in a small number of children.

Researchers around the world, including Stevens, broadly agree that even if there is a link between ADHD and AFC’s, it can not be the only link.

Pediatrician Tim Snyder says doctors are also taking a careful approach.

“Obviously, that can’t be the only factor causing ADD because everyone in the country would have that if that were the cause or the factor, so we know it can’t only be that.”

Trix is made by General Mills and Cap’n Crunch is made by Quaker Oats.

General Mills and Quaker’s owner, Pepsi, are a part of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

In a statement to news 18 the GMA calls Stevens’ study ‘drastically imprecise and could have easily produced inaccurate findings,’ and also says ‘our companies continuously review and monitor all emerging science and scientific studies… to help  ensure that we are always producing  the safest possible product for our consumers.’

In the meantime, Boller will continue keeping AFC’s out of her kids’ food.

“When I keep all of that stuff out of their diet it’s a big change.”

In 2011, the FDA voted 8 to 6 to reject a warning label for AFC. It says more study needs to be done on the link to ADHD.

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