Natural Foods Merchandiser

Additives linked to kids' hyperactivity

It's no secret that sugar gets kids wired. But a new study confirms what many naturals consumers have long suspected: Other ingredients in their children's diets may also lead to hyperactivity.

In a report published in the Sept. 6 edition of The Lancet, researchers concluded that common preservatives such as sodium benzoate (often used in soft drinks) and several artificial colorants caused hyperactivity in children who had not previously been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

For six weeks, researchers gave drinks containing the additives (in mixtures comparable to those in commercially available beverages) to 3-year-olds as well as 8- and 9-year-olds. Every other week, the children received placebo drinks that looked and tasted the same. Both the toddlers and the older children showed significantly more wriggling, fiddling and restlessness, and had shorter attention spans, after ingesting the additive-laced juices.

This information may inspire yawns in naturals shoppers who've long sought ways to control their children's ADHD without resorting to medication. In 1973, Dr. Benjamin Feingold proposed eliminating dyes, preservatives and artificial flavors from hyperactive children's diets, and many parents still adhere to this plan. But until now, scientific evidence to support these changes was sparse.

The new research, funded by Britain's Food Standards Agency, was "a well-designed study that seems to be demonstrating modest effects for a combination of food additives and preservatives in preschool and school-age children," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of development and behavioral pediatrics at Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y. But, he added, "I don't think people can come away and say, 'This is why kids are hyper.' I don't think it changes our thinking about ADHD in general."

Manfred Kroger, Ph.D., professor of food science at Pennsylvania State University, highlighted a primary concern with the study. "They mixed four colors—two yellows and two reds," in the drinks given to the children, he said. "It might just be that certain combinations will [cause hyperactivity], and not just one color." And, he warned, "If a kid is hyperactive and these colors are removed from the diet, there is no guarantee the hyperkinesis will go away."

"I don't think this is a validation of Feingold as an explanation for ADHD and its treatment," Adesman said. "The takeaway is that one or more commonly added chemicals may have some small but measurable effect on children and that further research is needed to identify which chemicals are problematic and to what effect."

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 11

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