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Food colouring increases hyperactivity in children

Some food colourings seem to increase activity in children diagnosed as hyperactive, but the same appears to apply to children not diagnosed as hyperactive. It is better to avoid exposing any children to food colourings.

The definition of so-called “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” in children is vague, and the various classifications do not concur. A combination of motor agitation, attention deficit and impulsiveness are reported, and the causes are unknown. It has been suggested that food colourings play a part in exacerbating hyperactivity in children.

One rigorous clinical study produced some disturbing results. It studied nearly 300 healthy children not suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Two cohorts were involved, one aged 3 and the other aged 8 to 9.

Whatever the children’s age, those who were given a drink with added colourings had a hyperactivity score higher than those receiving placebo.

Another review covering 15 trials on children already diagnosed as hyperactive showed an increase in hyperactivity symptoms associated with food colourings.

Although the mechanism of this phenomenon is not clearly understood, all this converging evidence suggests that food colourings are best avoided for all children, whether or not they have been diagnosed as hyperactive.

©Prescrire October 2009

Source: "Colorants alimentaires et symptômes d'hyperactivité chez les enfants" Rev Prescrire 2009; 29 (308): 433.
"Artificial food colouring and hyperactivity symptoms in children" Prescrire Int 2009; 18 (103): 215.

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