WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — Food companies and Purdue researchers are clashing over a recent study measuring the amount of artificial food coloring, or AFC, in some foods. AFC has been linked in some studies to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, in children.
The Purdue study, published April 24 in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Pediatrics, says “many children could be consuming far more dyes than previously thought.”
“I think we found that there were a lot of foods that contained dyes in very large variants of amounts,” said Laura Stevens, a Purdue research associate and lead author of the study. “It shows the older studies that use the 27 milligrams probably used too little dye to make an effect.”
Stevens said researchers in the 1970s and 1980s gave 27 milligrams of mixed dye to children every day to test if there is a connection between AFC and ADHD.
When little connection was found in those studies “everybody got the idea — pediatricians and nutritionists and psychologists — that there was really nothing to this,” Stevens said. “But there were other studies using larger amounts of dye that found that there were more kids who responded to that than the lower amounts.”
The dyes, which are typically made from petroleum, can be found in foods like candy and cereal, but also personal care products like toothpaste and mouthwash.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the food industry and the use of AFC, requires food companies to list AFC on its labels. However, it does not require companies to disclose how much dye is in their food.
“The dyes we’re talking about are those that have a number,” said Stevens. “They’re referred to [as] F, D and C, Red 3, and Red 40, and Yellow 5 and Yellow 6.”
Stevens’ study found that some cereals have no AFC in them, such as Special K Red Berries. Others, like Cap’n Crunch Oops All Berries, have 41.3 milligrams of red, blue and yellow dye per serving. In total, the study looked at dozens of foods, including puddings, cereals, cupcakes and candy.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food, beverage and consumer products companies, disagrees with Stevens’ findings. It released a statement that called the study “drastically imprecise and could have easily produced inaccurate findings.”
General Mills, which makes Trix, one of the other cereals tested at Purdue, also released a statement. It said “[the] levels in a product like Trix would actually be lower than what is listed by as much as 30 percent.” Trix, according to the study, has 36.4 milligrams of AFC per serving.
Many parents of children with ADHD are switching to a more natural diet to see if symptoms improve. ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders, and makes it difficult for affected children to pay attention or control their behavior.
“I would be right here with him and he would just…straight through me,” said Shannon Boller, whose 11-year-old son Dylan was diagnosed six years ago. “Like he’s right here looking at me, but not with me. You know, what I mean? Just zoned out elsewhere.”
Since his diagnosis, Dylan has been taking medication with varying success, but his mother doesn’t like giving him a pill.
“I feel like I’m drugging my child on a daily basis,” said Boller.
She said Dylan has trouble sleeping when on the medication, so she decided to change his diet. Since February, she has been taking out as many processed foods from her family’s meals as she can. She’s trying to eliminate sugars, dyes, preservatives — almost everything artificial.
“When I keep all that stuff out of their diet, it’s a big change,” Boller said.
Despite the attention given to changes in diet, there is broad consensus among doctors and researchers that food dye cannot be the only potential cause of ADHD.
“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,” said Dr. Tim Snyder, a pediatrician with St. Elizabeth Health in West Lafayette.
In 2011, the FDA voted eight to six rejecting a warning label for AFC, saying more study needs to be done on the connection to ADHD.
Stevens, who stands by her study, agrees that it’s too early to tell what causes ADHD or which dyes are potentially the most harmful.