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Is There a Link Between Artificial Food Dyes and Autism Spectrum Disorder?

It’s important to be mindful and diligent about what we consume to keep our bodies healthy. Much of what we find on the shelves contains food additives, preservatives, and other nasty ingredients. And one of these nasty ingredients—artificial food dyes—may play a role in autism spectrum disorder. 

While research is limited and has found little connection between food dyes and autism, there are plenty of parents who think otherwise. Many parents have witnessed drastic changes in their autistic child’s behavior once food dyes were removed from their diet. 

Even as the FDA declared to find no proven relationship, Andrew Adesman, MD (who happens to be chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York) believes more studies are needed. 


The Side Effects of Common Food Dyes

While food dyes may not immediately affect most adults, children are much more susceptible to anything they ingest. And for children on the autism spectrum, food dyes have been known to cause a number of issues from hyperactivity to sleep disorders.  

Parents of autistic children who consume these food dyes witness sudden changes in the child’s demeanor. For instance, after consuming food with a Red 40 dye, their kids show more aggressive behavior, throw temper tantrums, and display general hyperactivity. Red 40 dye also causes allergic reactions in some children. 

While there is limited evidence on the cause and effect, some parents have found eliminating food dyes in their child’s diet has dramatically improved their lives and kept their hyperactivity and tantrums to a minimum. 

Still… the general consensus agrees that, regardless of whether the food dye triggers these symptoms, it’s an unnatural additive that doesn’t belong in a child’s diet.  Or anyone’s diet, for that matter.  


Removing Food Dyes From Your Child’s Diet

Food dye is in a ridiculous number of foods and children are notoriously picky eaters. But even more with ASD children who have a more focused and intense relationship with food. It may be tricky to convince them of change.  

So how does a parent go about removing food dyes from a child’s diet? The first step is to be mindful of what contain these dyes in the first place. And it’s not just food. Keep in mind many other things like chewing gum and the coating on pills and tablets.  

Switch out artificial food dyes with natural alternatives such as beet juice, beta-carotene, paprika, and turmeric. Foods with natural dyes can appear just as convincing and delicious. 

To determine a child’s intolerance to food dyes, we recommend several options: Elimination diet, Alcat testing, or a combination of both. However, if a child is having a severe reaction to something they’re consuming, we suggest the Alcat test to quickly determine the potential culprit, as a process of elimination may add stress on your child. 

Looking for more ways to minimize the meltdowns? Bring your child in for acupuncture!



Potera C. The artificial food dye blues. Environ Health Perspect. 2010;118(10):A428. doi:10.1289/ehp.118-a428 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2957945/

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