Ask the School Psychologist...|
by Beth Bruno, Ed.M., M.A.
Effects of Red Food Dye on Children
"I am one of those people who rolls her eyes every time an article appears about this or that food ingredient being dangerous. If we eliminated everything mentioned, there'd be nothing to eat. That said, here's our story.
"We had a normal, loving 3-year-old boy. I was a stay-at-home mom; dad and I were happy; we had no financial problems. No out-of-the-ordinary changes had occurred in our daily life. Our son, all of a sudden, started having terrible tantrums. When I talked to the pediatrician, he said, 'Boys will be boys.' Except our son wasn't like that. He was always very mellow, very loving. As he grew older, teachers reported behavior problems and suggested that we get him tested for ADHD. But when we took him to the doctor, he was always given a clean bill of health.
"After he was asked to leave a daycare program due to behavior problems, we had him tested and enrolled him in a special Pre-K program for EH (emotionally handicapped) and DDS (developmentally delayed) children. Testing showed that he was of superior intelligence but had below average fine motor skills. He did well. We, as parents, took classes to deal with his behavior.
"Then I discovered a letter in the local paper by a mother who had written about her daughter's 'aggressive hyperactivity' when she consumed red dye 40. My son had had one of his tantrums just that evening and this article clicked. I got up and went to examine the food ingredients of what he had consumed that night. BINGO! It contained red dye 40.
"Let me describe these tantrums; they were not ordinary. It was as if our son were seized by the moment and could not physically or emotionally let go of it. And it was extreme. His behavior was so opposite of what was normal for him, it was like watching a child possessed. Whenever I talked with doctors, no one understood that these were not normal tantrums. I was just considered an overanxious mom, but anyone who witnessed a tantrum (and knew me well enough) always reacted with, 'This is not normal!'
"We eliminated red dye 40. Other food colorings did not produce the same reaction. When he began to show signs of a reaction we could always trace it to something with red dye 40 in it. After that, he was fine both at home and at school. He had a wonderful first grade teacher who found no problems with him and had him tested for gifted classes, which he has taken ever since. At a very early age, (after learning about this) he knew which treats he couldn't have because, 'That makes me crazy.'
"Our advice to parents is: 'Know your child.' If he or she is behaving in an abnormal way, keep fighting for him/her until you get someone to listen. My doctors would not listen. The educational program would not listen. But I knew my child. We eliminated food allergies ourselves when the doctors shrugged them off.
"Today I still insist on non-colored medicines. Ironically, the doctors just accept my statement as fact with nothing to back it up in his medical files other than each year's written request for no red dye 40. You can get medicines now without coloring, if you request them. So until the day this dye is removed from drinks, foods and medicines, we'll just monitor it ourselves."
Note from Beth Bruno: I have received dozens of letters from parents about children who are sensitive to red dye 40 and show it through both physical and behavioral symptoms. In each case, the parents have reported improvement after eliminating the source of the dye. It's one of many possibilities to consider when trying to figure out what is causing a developmental or behavioral problem with your child.
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