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My son was diagnosed with 10 different food allergies as an infant. His diet required professional supervision to ensure he ate sufficient fats and vitamins to grow well. As he became a pre-schooler, he did outgrown nine of those allergies, but he maintains a severe dairy allergy at 11 years old, so he continues to be under an allergist’s care to monitor this allergy and his mild asthma.

By the time he entered kindergarten, we blamed a lot of his behavior on his asthma. We noticed he seemed to have a tantrum often before an asthma attack, but the allergist assured us that this was unrelated. Still, I am not sure. By second grade, the school was implying he had ADD, though we really did not believe this. We had him evaluated by two developmental pediatricians, who would commit to nothing other than to tell us he was perhaps borderline hyperactive/ADD. One of them recommended we read a book about hidden food allergies, but our allergist denied that the book had any merit. Still, we read it and learned about the food dye -behavior connection. Later, the allergist agreed that this connection is real, but it is a chemical reaction rather than an allergic reaction.

At this time, serendipitously, we ran into another family who was reading labels at a party to check for ingredients. We offered to share our chocolate soy milk, if it was a dairy issue. However, we learned that their daughter avoided Red Dye #40. When we asked what would happen to her, her mother hesitated and then shared that her daughter’s behavior would dramatically change. She would throw a loud, aggressive tantrum after eating Red Dye #40. I had heard of this before, and had really resisted having to “go organic” since our diet had already been so dramatically altered due to the food allergies.

However, my husband and I could not deny that this was something we should check into after we gave him a red candy for a treat at an event serving only dairy and “junk foods, “ and within fifteen minutes he was swearing, kicking, and just downright rude. We experimented; completely avoiding it and then letting him have it. It was like turning a light switch on and off, “good behavior” and then “bad behavior.” These tantrums were such that we would put him in his bedroom and he would just kick the door and swear and then later he would just say, “Can I come out? I feel better.”

Car trips were always a horrible nightmare for us, with his continual tantrums after about an hour. Then, we realized that we always served him juice boxes in the car, with artificial Red Dye #40 in it! Now, we can go for four or five hour trips without more than the “normal” restlessness. It is incredible. When I think back to how many tears I cried out of frustration and how much I would have to fight the urge to leave him on the side of the road….well, that is why I am writing this!

He is now in fifth grade, and voluntarily avoids artificial red foods. He just shrugs and tells people, “You don’t know wanna know what will happen to me if I eat that! Really, I will just go nuts.” But the sad part is, there’s got to be lots of kids out there that do “go nuts” and they may not be as fortunate as our son to have parents that figured this out. They may be suffering and getting into trouble with their families, schools, and even the police. When you realize that it is lower incomed, less educated families that eat more of the “junk food” it compounds the issue. 

Years ago, I worked with emotionally disturbed children, and I know we fed them artificial colors, and I remember seeing this kind of behavior at that group home. How many of them could have been managed at home with healthier diets? I think it is outrageous that this type of chemical pollution is permitted to in our food stream as if it were, well, candy.

 

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