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FDA Meeting: Do Food Dyes Cause Hyperactivity?

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Thank you. This keeps coming up in mama circles by both kinds of mamas I know: the crazy Austin omg-everything-causes-autism ones as well as the sensible, not-swayed-by-so-much-crazy ones. So I wasn’t sure what to think and hadn’t had a chance to go poking around in data. Mostly because I keep making cake and using food dye.

    So it’s extremely useful for me to be able to point to your analysis and tell people to calm down. Not that they will, but at least I can shrug it off the next time someone asks me if my donated cakes at family events have food dye. Yes they do. And gluten. And eggs. Vegan-gluten-free-cakes do not stay upright very well on account of protein being strong and all.

    Yay science!

    (That being said I don’t feed my kid tons of processed foods in general but if I want to make rainbow cake for her as a special treat, by [deity] I’m gonna do it!)

  2. Your video inspired me to have green eggs and ham for lunch. Yummy!

    Sadly, all the shops seem to be out of blue Romulan Ale. Coincidence?

    A wee bit of constructive criticism, if I may;
    Do not apologize in your videos. Update us on your marvelous self, yes; apologize, not so much.

    I have been trying to reword that in an up beat way but I am firmly in fail land on that effort. I guess I will have to hope you get my positive waves.

  3. I’m at work, so I shouldn’t be stopping from my “exciting” “work” to read or write anything here, let alone watch the video-blog yet, so this may be all blowing smoke out of my butt/mouth/keyboard, and general conclusion-jumping.

    There have been a several of studies linking ADHD, its subtypes (yes- it’s not simply being hyperactive and needing ‘discipline’, because I’ve had to explain this to People “several” times), and the increasing of ADHD symptoms and diagnoses to certain dyes and preservatives.

    What it seems to be is that the dyes and preservatives effect a certain dopamine transporter and histamine in the brain. The gene associated with this transporter already has been linked (genetically) to ADHD, while the transporter itself largely specializes with activities associating with focus, memory, and problem solving. The disruption of histamine in the brain decreases focus, more so with ADHD symptoms and patients.

    My folder of direct links about this stuff and the studies (gathered because it is relevant to my interests, meaning ‘to me and my brain’) is on my home computer, but the big studies on the effects were published in the Lancet, AJP, and some others that I can’t remember right now, all relatively recently.

  4. @DanSRose: The Lancet article discussed the Southampton study, and it seemed that it didn’t control for enough variables to be useful. Since the Lancet is the publication that legitimized Andrew Wakefield, they’ve gone way down in my book. I realize they withdrew that article, but it makes me wonder how rigorous they are. If dyes and preservatives affect a neurotransmitters then the effect should be consistent, but 35 years of scientific studies have revealed no clear link between food dyes and behavior issues.

  5. Rebecca, on the Ayoob quote, were you able to find that snippet from more than one source? I almost quoted him on a Facebook discussion of this but the only reliable quote I found from him was *not* that FSN paraphrasing. In fact, I could find no other source that said the 3 year olds became less hyperactive. I wish I had, it would have been a great point to make.

  6. I’m not asking this to be dense, but why is this only about synthetic dyes? If there is a potential problem with dyes and preservatives whouldn’t that include ‘natural colors’ and ‘natural preservatives’ too?

    Naturalistic fallacy maybe?

  7. Why would you do this in Minnesota? I totally get the pairing up with a fandom event. SFF fandom and skepticism are two overlapping communities.

    You should move your event to San Diego. We have this little event called Comic-con. You might have heard of it. It’s where the best counter protest to the WBC was held.

    They’ve been bursting at the seams for some years now. They love it when people set up other events to take some of the pressure off.

    More importantly I wouldn’t have to pay air fare, hotel and restaurant expenses and have to get off work to go.

  8. Wow… Really? The best part of food is the petroleum based colors in it? I do not think food dye effects all children but it sure effects mine. I have a five year old diagnosed as bipolar. We have found that he was not actually bipolar. When we take away all artificial food coloring, he is a normal five year old boy. When he ingests the smallest amount of food dye, he goes nuts, hitting, biting, irrational behavior followed by a crying meltdown because he did not mean to act like that. He used to have bipolar aggression everyday, two or three times a day. Now we can go weeks as long as he does not have any food dye. Twenty minutes after having the smallest amount of dye, he melts down again. So, I do not understand why you think it is okay to disregard these issues when you are not the one with a child that is affected. I do not trust the FDA as far as I can throw them. They cater to the big food lobbyists. The fact that it takes them seven years to approve something is just normal politics. They are not actually testing anything for seven years. Britai has ban the use of artificial food dye in all their products unless they have a warning label applied to the product. Are you saying a whole counrty is wrong and they should just ignore this so that you can make neon green day glow colored crap. Do you realize artificial food coloring is petroleum. Where our bodies designed to run on petrol? Not mine…

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