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Hyperactive kids: is food the cause?

5 january 2012 | yours.ie

Millions of children worldwide suffer from some type of hyperactivity nowadays. According to studies the cause may be closely connected to food additives and colourings.

scoop candy
boy playground

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), hyperactivity and dyslexia are all believed to be disorders of the mechanics of the central nervous system. Children and infants are most affected. Hyperactivity can interfere with your child’s home, school and social life. Children with ADHD are easily distracted, and your highly intelligent child can be labelled “learning disabled”.

There have been studies carried out over the years that have found that the forms in which sugar is taken into the body can cause ADHD, hyperactivity and ADD. If you were to enter the words sugar and behaviour into any search engine you would discover a multitude of studies that demonstrate the effects of blood sugar imbalances on behaviour.

Further studies are now to be carried out to assess whether food additives and colourings could in fact be a cause of hyperactivity in children.

Symptoms of Hyperactivity In Children

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ADD is something that has been diagnosed for over a hundred years, but in recent years it has become more prevalent due to the increased use of chemicals in food.

The symptoms of ADHD in infants and young children include crying inconsolably, screaming, restlessness, poor or little sleep, feeding difficulties and temper tantrums. In older children the symptoms can include impulsiveness, constant movement, destructive and disruptive behaviour, poor concentration, loudness, aggressiveness, withdrawn behaviour, erratic eating habits, poor coordination, disobedience, nervousness, moodiness and more.

Hyperactivity and Food

In clinical trials and studies, it was found that the majority of cases of ADHD and ADD were caused by immune defects and allergies to certain food additives, preservatives or chemicals. Good nutrition in your child’s early years may help to prevent ADHD. Eliminating artificial flavourings, colours, preservatives and sugars have also been shown to help with the hyperactivity aspect.


Many doctors believe that some of the potential causes for ADHD are food additives, refined sugar, poor nutrition, food allergies, heavy metal toxicity and poor teaching methods combined with a lack of discipline.

The belief that food additives can be a cause of hyperactivity in children stemmed from the research carried out by Benjamin Feingold, MD. According to Feingold, 40 to 50% of hyperactive children are sensitive to artificial food colours, flavourings and preservatives. Dr. Feingold’s research was presented to the American Medical Association in 1973 and has been subject to great debate over the past two decades. Further studies in Australia and Canada have since supported Dr. Feingold’s research.

Lower levels of omega-3, zinc and magnesium

In 1994 a study at Purdue University found that boys diagnosed with ADHD had lower levels of the omega 3 essential fatty acid DHA. Two years later another study found that ADHD children had zinc levels that were only two thirds the level of those without ADHD. In 1997 a study found that 95% of ADHD children tested were deficient in magnesium.

Further studies, in particular dietary studies, have consistently revealed that hyperactive children eat more sugar than other children. Another study showed that reducing sugar halved disciplinary actions in young offenders. A study of 265 hyperactive children found that more than three-quarters of them displayed abnormal glucose tolerance and that their bodies were less able to handle sugar intake and maintain balanced sugar levels.

Helping Your Hyperactive Child

Children who have ADHD are not naughty, lazy or stupid. They have a disorder. They may have problems paying attention or sitting still, and they can also be very impulsive. It is estimated that approximately 9% of children have ADHD and boys seem to be more prone to this disorder than girls.

bored child

If you suspect that your child has ADHD, the first step is to visit your GP. The doctor can refer you to a specialist who will be able to make a diagnosis. If a diagnosis of ADHD is reached you will need to help your child learn how to change the way they act. Behavioural therapy can help.

For more information and help visit the Irish National Council of AD/HD Support Groups' website.

As a parent you can also help by ensuring that you give your child structure and routine. Consistency in your parenting is essential. Your child needs to know that bad behaviour will have consequences. If you feel that food may be linked to your child’s hyperactive behaviour, this should also be looked at. Protein rich foods should form the main part of your child’s diet. Sugars, artificial colourings and preservatives should be avoided. You can try keeping a food diary for at least two weeks and note the changes in your child’s behaviour as you remove certain foods from their diet. This will give you some significant clues as to the effects of certain foods on your child’s behaviour.