Food Dyes & ADHD: Is There A Connection?

gummy bears

Before you feed your child that pack of brightly-colored gummy bears, you may want to think again. Your children may love the fun colors of those sweet chewy morsels, but most are laced with toxic synthetic food dyes.

According to a recent report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, studies done on food dyes have found a connection between multiple health imbalances, as well as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in children. The food dyes in question are Blue 1 & 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Red 3 & 40, Yellow 5 & 6.

Food dyes are coloring agents commonly added to practically all American processed foods. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is also concerned about the fact that the FDA has approved nine different food dyes known to be detrimental to health in both animal and human studies, and clinical studies have found a clear link between food dyes and ADHD. Sadly, there are over 3,000 substances (such as dyes and colorants) added to foods in the United States.

Are Food Dyes Toxic?

Food dyes are substances used to change the color, flavor and texture of the food, but add absolutely zero health benefits.

In fact, the European Union passed a law stating that all foods containing dyes must come with this warning – “This product may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

Yet, in the United States, where nine potentially neuro-toxic food dyes are present in foods, there is no warning at all. In fact, it has been almost twenty years since the FDA has even looked into the safety of these chemicals. What is more, every year, food production companies are adding more and more chemicals and dyes to our food, in an effort to innovate and stimulate new potential markets – namely, children.

Moreover, food dyes offer absolutely no health benefits to human beings, and are usually added to cover up bland coloration, making the food more “attractive” in appearance. Of course, this “attraction” is usually geared towards getting children to eat these foods. Sadly, children are at the highest risk for toxicity from food dyes and their chemical carcinogens which lead to ADHD.

A professor from the University of Rochester specializing in environmental medicine states that the dyes not only harm the human body, but are not good for our environment as well. Lately, emerging animal trials are linking chemical food dyes with the development of cancer.

Other Health Risks of Food Dyes

ADHD and cancer are not our only concerns surrounding these food additives. Nutritionally, food dyes are nothing more than increased calories.

Moreover, the foods they typically appear in are classically higher in fats, calories, sugars and other additives. There also may be a connection between food dyes and childhood obesity.

  • Blue 1 — Research has suggested this food coloring does pose a small cancer risk, however more testing is needed. For now, this dye is considered safe, unless you are allergic.
  • Blue 2 — Commonly used to dye drinks, candy and baked goods have been linked to brain tumors in mice. Despite the research, the FDA has stated that Blue 2 has a “reasonable certainty of no harm”.
  • Red 3 — The bright red dye commonly found in marachino cherries and margarita mixes has been shown to cause thyroid tumors in rats.
  • Red 40 — The food coloring used the most, Red 40 may cause allergy-like reactions. It is important to note that research has been inconclusive, up to this point, and is generally deemed safe.
  • Yellow 5 — This is the second most commonly-used food dye on the market. Research has shown that it may actually trigger hyperactivity in children, as well as cause allergy-like hypersensitivity reactions. It’s also important to note that this dye is sometimes contaminated with cancer-causing substances.
  • Yellow 6 — Can be found in everything from hotdogs to jello and has been shown to contain carcinogens, plus have a relationship to adrenal and kidney malfunction.
  • Green 3 — This food coloring is not widely used anymore, but research has linked it to tumors in the bladder and testes of rats. The FDA also considers this one to be safe, and it can be found in candy and beverages.

How do we create these bright food dyes that go into so many boxed, bagged and canned foods? It may surprise you to learn that dyes are made up of some pretty disgusting chemical combinations, including benzidine, 4-aminobiphenyl, and even synthesized petroleum by-products. No wonder gas prices are so high.

Dr. L. Eugene Arnold, a child psychiatrist whom specializes in ADHD and autism, tells ABC News:

“If something is safe, easy, cheap and sensible to do, you don’t need as much evidence to take action. In this case, the action would be to remove artificial food dyes from foods targeted to kids. Dyes are not an essential food group. We have an obesity epidemic; it’s not necessary to make food more attractive. The sole purpose of the dyes is to make food more attractive.”

So What is the Solution?

Eat organic foods, drink purified water, read the labels on all foods you buy and cleanse your body regularly. And, to learn more about the “Rainbow of Risks,” I recommend reading this PDF report [1] from the Center of Science in the Public Interest. It will give you even more in depth information about which food dyes you should avoid and why.

What are your thoughts? Do you think there’s a connection between food dyes and ADHD? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments below!

– Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM


  1. Sarah Kobylewski PhD, Michael F. Jacobson PhD. Food dyes: a rainbow of risks (PDF). Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2010 June.
  2. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Food dyes. 2010 June.
  3. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Chemical cuisine, learn about food additives.
  4. Jane E. Allen. Food dyes may exacerbate hyperactivity in sensitive children. ABC News Medical Unit. 2011 March 25.

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  • Damian

    I believe this has been speculated for years now, but I’m glad that more and more people are giving it more exposure. ADHD can be a pretty serious thing, and if cutting out something simple like these food dyes can help, then I don’t see why any parent wouldn’t dothat.

    Good info, thanks ghc!

  • Alan M

    But, I love gummy bears!

  • Ottawa

    Any good parent knows that they need to limit the type of foods that usually have these artificial coloring in them. Great post, hopefully more parents will be more aware of the dangers of food coloring.

  • Marcia

    There is definitely a link between food dyes and behavior with plenty of good science to prove it:

    A support group was formed in 1976 by parents who also saw this link in their own children. It continues to help families 35 years later:

  • Gina Devee

    Great post! The amount of food dyes being added to foods is just ridiculous these days.. .especially in kids foods.





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