One of the first things recommended to me by the Nurse Practitioner who diagnosed M with “off the charts” ADHD was to remove food dyes from his diet. I had never heard of this. I did some research, and found out that there was a study in Great Britain that tested typically developing children in two age groups with a punch that had added preservatives and food dyes. This was a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, crossover trial study. That basically means that they used a punch with food dyes and preservatives, as well as a placebo – one without dyes or preservatives. The researchers didn’t know which drink the children were getting. They rated the children’s behavior on an ADHD rating scale, both before and after the punch was given. This study found elevated ADHD scales in many of the younger children (3 year old), and all of the older children (8/9 year old) given the preservative and food dye laden drink, but not in those given the placebo.
So, I decided to try this with my son.I didn’t think it would make a difference, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. So, I committed to one month of him not having any foods with the two food dyes that are most known for causing hyperactivity reactions in children. These were Red #40 and Yellow #5. I didn’t notice a difference right away. It took at least a week before I noticed any behavior changes. But, then I noticed that he was slightly less impulsive, and less hyperactive. After two weeks, he got to what I would consider his “baseline” – typical behavior for M without these food dyes in his system. This was in the summer before he turned 5.
I wasn’t sure if I was imagining things, though, so on Halloween, I decided to let him have at it with the treats at our Mom’s Club party. I thought, what could it hurt for him to have these foods just every once in a while? Why can’t he be a typical kid, just once every few months? And, what if I am just making it all up? What if I want so much for this to be a solution to his behavior that I’m seeing things that aren’t there? So, I let him have whatever he wanted to eat. He had orange punch, orange and black cookies, candies, pretty much everything there was colored. He had a field day with the treats! But, he was so out of control afterwards, he had a meltdown at the place where we had our Mom’s Club party, before we could even leave. And, once we got home, he took a rock and scratched it down the entire side of Papa Bet’s car. That was out of his character! He immediately got a look on his face like he knew what he was doing was wrong, but he just couldn’t help it.
I had my answer. I knew that I wasn’t just making it all up. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t cure his ADHD. It just brought him from a level of Tasmanian Devil down to Road Runner. Still hyper, still busy, still definitely ADHD. But more in control, and less impulsive. So, I continued to monitor his food, and watch what he ate. At times, I would notice an unusual increase in his impulsive behavior. He would become like Taz again for a while. I would read labels, and usually found something that surprisingly had food dyes in it. Like macaroni and cheese. Or barbecue sauce. Or pickles. Pickles got me for a long time. For a while, I had noticed M’s impulsivity would increase after eating fast food. I couldn’t figure out why. Then, one day, I was reading the pickle jar label. EVERY single brand of dill pickles I read had yellow #5 in it!
Yesterday, we were at the kids’ cousins’ house. They had cake. I decided I didn’t want to bother with figuring out if the cake had color in it, or not. For once, I wanted to let him be a kid and not be singled out. Plus, he is on medication now, and I figured it was time to test whether maybe we could stop being as vigilant. As I was eating the cake, I noticed that it probably had food color in it. He had been SO good the whole time he was there, at the party. He was having a good time. So, I knew that he would get impulsive, but I thought it was something we could handle. The first clue was that he couldn’t eat all of it. After 3 years of not eating food dyes, it now makes him sick to his stomach. It took about 20 minutes for it to affect his behavior. I decided to go looking for him. I found him in the front yard, straddling the wall, probably 4 or 5 feet high. He felt so out of control that he was able to get “centered” by climbing the wall. For the most part, he was able to control his impulses, but he was flitting from one thing to the next, and constantly in motion, to the point where I couldn’t keep up with him. This lasted all evening, until I gave him his melatonin to get him to fall asleep. Even then, it was a 2 melatonin kind of night. He is fine today, surprisingly. He is a little more impulsive than normal, but doing really well considering. It should be completely out of his system by tomorrow.
I do have to end in a disclaimer. Though eliminating food dyes did buy us some time, Papa Bets and I decided last winter that it wasn’t helping enough anymore. I asked about adding melatonin to help him sleep. That helped some, still not enough. So, we decided to try a mild medication in the anti-hypertensive family. The one he is currently on is Tenex. It helps to take the edge off most of his tics, and mellows out his hyperactivity a little more. We will also likely add in a stimulant this summer or fall, as well, to help with his attention and focus. His neurologist hopes that by doing a little bit of a few things that are researched and tested to help in kids with his type of Alphabet Soup, we will be able to keep the doses low, and get a good result. I’ll keep you posted!