Concern over an apparent link between artificial food colorings and childhood behavioral disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been growing for more than half a century. Despite the accumulated weight of evidence supporting such a link, government regulators have continued to claim that current recommendations for acceptable daily intakes (ADIs) of these substances are sufficient to protect neurobehavior. A new review challenges this assumption and provides important confirmation that a relationship between artificial food colorings and childhood behavioral disorders does indeed exist.
Published in the Environmental Health journal by scientists from the California Environmental Protection Agency and the University of California, the review focuses on 7 widely used artificial food colorings: Brilliant Blue, Indigo Carmine, Fast Green, Erythrosine, Allura Red, Tartrazine, and Sunset Yellow. All of these colorings are currently approved for use in food by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government regulators around the world.
The review examines a total of 27 human clinical trials in which the majority of participants were children aged up to 19 years old. The trials investigate the effects of artificial food colorings, or a diet eliminating them, and compare the results with those of placebos. A further 23 animal toxicology studies are also assessed in which individual food colorings or mixtures of them were given to rats or mice. As with the human clinical trials, the effects of the colorings in these studies are compared with those of placebos.
Of the 27 human clinical trials examined by the scientists, 25 were co-called ‘challenge studies’ which looked at the effects of artificial food colorings when participants were deliberately challenged with them. The other 2 trials were diet elimination studies, where participants were placed on diets which excluded the chemicals. The scientists found that 16 (64 percent) of the human challenge studies identified clear evidence of an association between artificial food colorings and behavioral disorders. In 13 (52 percent) of these studies the association was judged to be statistically significant.
Analyzing the animal studies, the scientists say that comparison of the doses measuring behavioral or brain effects following exposure to artificial food colorings indicates that current FDA ADIs are not adequate to protect neurobehavior in susceptible children. In fact, the scientists discovered that almost all studies in mature animals that measured behavioral changes and/or changes in the brain found problems caused by the colorings at doses lower than those claimed by the FDA to produce no adverse effects.
Noting that current FDA ADIs for artificial food colorings are based on studies that were not even designed to assess the types of adverse behavioral effects found in children, the scientists say the existence of such effects should now be acknowledged and steps taken to reduce exposure to the colorings in potentially susceptible young people. With scientific research increasingly confirming the benefits of additive-free organic diets, it is time for our governments to act on these findings and prioritize protecting children’s health rather than the manufacturers of neurologically damaging synthetic chemicals.