Oftentimes, symptoms of food dye sensitivity and allergies get overlooked by both parents and doctors, as the symptoms seem to be brushed off as normal behavior for whatever age a child is at. Though all children will act out, not pay attention at times, and/or sometimes have trouble sleeping, consistency of this behavior is not normal, as I am learning with my son. Below is a guest post by Rebecca Evans, a mother who has devoted much of her time informing others about the links between food dye and behavior problems.
I like this piece because not only does Evans discuss the signs, but she also shares her knowledge of important details and information regarding the allergies and provides ways to determine if your child does indeed have a sensitivity to them.
The Ins and Outs of Food Coloring Sensitivity
If you’ve ever wondered if food coloring affects your family’s health or behavior, check out my short list of symptoms that follows. This is not the total list of all symptoms that arise with the ingestion of food dyes, but it’s a collection of the most common problems I’ve seen. Unfortunately, there is no allergy test for dye sensitivity, so you’ll have to use old-fashioned observation – More on that below…
The food dyes I’m referring to are petroleum-based and will be listed on an ingredient label as Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 3, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, etc. However, please note that some natural colorants like carmine and annatto cause serious reactions in sensitive people, too.
The 12 Signs
Do you or anyone in your family exhibit these signs of dye sensitivity?
1. Hyperactivity: Can’t stop moving, runs most of the time, constant movement of hands and feet.
2. Lack of attention: Cannot focus either at home or school – without affecting all areas of life all the time (not ADD).
3. Sleep problems: Has a hard time settling down for sleep, or has sleep disturbances throughout the night.
4. Mood swings: Unexplained emotional problems, hours-long tantrums, inconsolable crying, paranoia, and meltdowns over tiny things or schedule changes.
5. Violence/Aggression: Biting, spitting, growling, hitting, kicking, and uncharacteristic mean talk.
6. Lack of impulse control: Increase in risky behaviors, excessive talking at inappropriate times, loud talking, disruptive, interrupts people a lot, hard to transition from one activity to another, does not adjust behavior in response to discipline.
7. The Ickies: Headaches, stomach aches, and vomiting.
8. Bed-wetting: This includes daytime wetting, well past the age of toilet training.
9. Skin ailments: Eczema and hives. My daughter had eczema and cradle cap before we eliminated dyes.
10. Breathing problems: Some kids require an inhaler due to dye-induced asthma.
11. Compulsiveness: Pulls out hair, eyelashes or eyebrows, picks at skin, repeats certain actions numerous times.
12. Not consistent: This is the single most important clue to watch for. Can you give your kid sugary treats without problems some days, but then other times, they freak out? Our clue was our daughter’s hyperactivity after eating sugar-free pudding that we later discovered had red dye.
We eliminated the ten symptoms my daughter had, out of these twelve, just by removing food coloring from our diet.
She is still a kid, and has moments of upset like anyone else, but she copes so much better now, and the upsets go away quickly. Those days of nuclear explosions are long gone. Any parent of a dye-sensitive kid will tell you that their dye reactions are NOT normal kid behavior. And most of them will joyfully relate their own story of how different their kids act after becoming dye-free.
I’ve found that different colors cause varying symptoms for different dye-sensitive people. For example, yellow dyes may cause hyperactivity in Kid A, eczema in Kid B, and vomiting for Kid C. Some kids can tolerate blue and yellow dyes without symptoms, but react fiercely to red dyes. More complicated still is the fact that most petroleum food dyes don’t exist alone in any given food. They are mixed with other colors, plus petroleum-derived preservatives like Sodium Benzoate, BHT, BHA, and TBHQ. Much more research is needed on how the consumption of several dyes and preservatives affects the human body over a lifetime.
Some food for thought…I’ve recently met more and more parents whose dye-sensitive kids started out as severely dairy-allergic babies. Some parents note that the once life-threatening anaphylactic symptoms of babyhood have seemingly morphed into behavioral problems after they thought their child had outgrown a dairy allergy. There is a theory that the added vitamins in cow’s milk are kept from spoiling by the use of petroleum-based preservatives – which do not have to be listed on the ingredient label. My own dye-sensitive kid had abrupt and scary allergic reactions to milk as a baby. This theory fascinates me, and I’d love to learn more.
Also, I recently read that most people – kids and adults alike – have at least one sensory processing disorder, whether we realize it or not. I can totally see that, and it helps me to be more understanding of myself and others. It’s my own opinion that petroleum dyes exacerbate those issues, such as with picky eaters, and those who are sensitive to loud noises and bright lights. If you suspect or know that your child has a sensory processing disorder, it’s worth it to at least try avoiding synthetic food coloring.
I’ve even found theories connecting yellow dyes to carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritic symptoms.
Whether or not you have any of the symptoms, petroleum dyes are just not good for anybody. We as adults weren’t meant to digest them, and developing kids are especially ill-equipped to deal with them. Unfortunately, most dyed foods are marketed to kids.
What You Can Do
Try a food coloring elimination for just a week or two. You can usually see a big difference within just a few days. Print this easy list of “Badditives” to take shopping, or pull it up on your smart phone. Remove dyes that are hidden in your home such as in cleaning and personal care products. Do a quick pantry purge to make sure that your family is absolutely not consuming any dyes during your elimination test. Ask family, teachers, friends, and caregivers to refrain from offering food and drinks that are not provided by you. Pass on face paints and temporary tattoos during your elimination period, too.
Avoid fake flavorings like “vanillin”, too, as these cause similar reactions in dye-sensitive kids. My daughter gets the inconsolable Screaming Weepies for several hours after eating fake vanilla in dips, cereals, cookies, sauces, cheap chocolate, and drinks.
Write down what your child eats each day in a Food Mood Log, adding notes about behavior after each meal or snack. When your child is in daycare or school, compare your Food Mood Log with the caregiver’s notes or behavior charts. Try to spot any patterns. Rule out other allergies with an allergist if there is no change after a dye elimination.
If you’d like to read about other parents of dye-sensitive kids to gain some insights, check out my collection of guest blogger stories. And check out these interviews with a dye-sensitive 7-year old and a dye-sensitive teen boy. I wrote about our own experience in Why I’m Over This Rainbow: Our Food Coloring Sensitivity Story. Read about my discovery of my own problems with dyes in My Rainbow Connection – My Own Reactions To Food Coloring. Dyes affect moms and dads, too.
For more help on living dye-free, register for my free discussion forum. Users can post up questions, recipes, crafts, travel advice, resources, and favorite dye-free treat alternatives. Visit the DFD Facebook fan page for up-to-date information and interesting content.
Have you experienced any symptoms other than the ones I’ve listed? Tell everyone about it in a comment below!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Evans started her “Die, Food Dye!” blog after a difficult summer with her then unhappy and out-of-control child. Her collection of personal observations of her family’s dye-free transformation plus stories from guest blogger parents helps others make the connection between food, behavior, and health – with a dash of humor along the way. Find help on the blog discussion forum atwww.DieFoodDye.com, and on the Facebook fan page at www.Facebook.com/DieFoodDye.