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Food coloring and ADHD -- no known link, but wider safety issues remain: UMD researcher

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - When University of Maryland psychologist Andrea Chronis-Tuscano testified before a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearing last March, it changed her mind about possible risks of artificial food coloring for children, and drove her to look more closely at the products in her own pantry that she feeds her kids.

Chronis-Tuscano walked in to the meeting certain that NO convincing scientific evidence supports the idea that food coloring additives cause Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD - nor that strict diets eliminating dyes effectively treat the condition.

While the testimony from other experts did NOT shake that assessment, it did raise concerns for her about the lack of research on the overall safety of food dyes for children.

"The testimony I heard presents significant questions for me - issues that have not been adequately studied by scientists," says Chronis-Tuscano, a mother of young children, an associate professor of psychology and director of the University of Maryland ADHD Program.

"Beginning in the womb, developing brains are particularly sensitive to toxins," Chrois-Tuscano explains. "It's important to get better information about how much of these substances American children consume, and whether these levels are dangerous.

"Given the lack of hard evidence, I am not convinced that food coloring additives are dangerous, but I am also not convinced that they are not. It is certainly possible that some small subset of children have a unique sensitivity to these substances.

"The issue shouldn't end here. We need better answers about the effects of these additives on our nation's children," she concludes.

The debate over a possible link between food additives and a range of childhood behavioral issues, such as ADHD, has persisted for decades, spurred on by parents' desire to find a remedy that does not involve powerful medications.


Contact: Neil Tickner
University of Maryland

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