Red 40 and Aggression

Updated on May 18, 2018
T.W. asks from Naperville, IL
9 answers

My son has SPD and major hyperactivity. The last 3 weeks or so, his aggression and energy level have skyrocketed. His teacher has called me saying they are having problems at school with his behavior, and it's been out of control at home. Thing is, there have been no changes at home - we keep a pretty good routine b/c he truly needs it. Due to my son's issues, we can't stand drinking water. For awhile, we were doing watered down juice, but we had concerns about all the sugar, so we started substituting kool aid made with splenda. I figured there was nothing that could hurt him. Now I'm doing research on red dye 40 and realizing this may be the cause of his issues. Has anyone else experienced this and if so, did eliminating the dye from your child's diet help? Also, what would you recommend he drink if we take away the koolaid? Straight up water is out of the question; it makes him gag. Is it better to water down juice or try flavored waters? Thank you so much.
Edited to add after a few responses:
Let me also please request that you not completely flame me for giving my son kool-aid. While I do appreciate the advice, I would also greatly appreciate not being made to feel like a horrible mom for making a mistake due to a lack of information on red dye. Not to mention that in doing the research, there are conflicting opinions on both red dye and splenda, so one can't possibly be expected to know everything about these chemicals. He has only been drinking it for a few months, and it was b/c we were worried about the sugar content of juices, so please be aware that I do care about the health of my son very much and will do anything suggested that will help. But questioning my parenting is really not cool, and isn't likely going to be very productive to me or to anyone else who needs advice.

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answers from Chicago on

I apologize up front if I am going to come off being a bit harsh. Why are you giving your child red #40, or any coloring? Food coloring by all standards is totally bad for anyone, especially kids with sensitivities. There are MANY many ways to flavor water without all the glucose/fructose juice has. You could try doing plain tea with some stevia or agave for sweetness, or even honey is way better. You could try a juicer and make carrot juice which has great flavor mixed with an apple or two and you've got a very healthy and yummy drink. There are many ways, you just have to try them. Splenda is TERRIBLE for him and so is the koolaid. I promise it is making your child's behavior worse, even possibly creating it. Good luck with your son. I have a lot of experience with additives and sensory issues in children in the past 15 yrs. It IS possible to work out the issues. It is very commendable that you are trying to do everything for the health of your son.



answers from Chicago on

T.-Naomi is right. Our food has so many chemicals, dyes, and additives to make us sick and lethargic, not to mention fat. Anything with an unusual color always steer clear of. Optimally you should go totally organic and not buy anything that is pre-made. Many of your son's sensitivities will lessen or disappear completely. You also have to be looking at gluten free eating regimen. Gluten, dyes and processed sugar are the number one triggers for these behavior issues.

Check out the Feingold diet and ph balancing for the body-this works with people of all ages . I have much more info on my blog but specifically check out the links for raw eating.

There are so many books and eating ideas out there with children and adults that fall into this spectrum and most do not know it is environmentally (food) related.

in great health

Detox Coach

Please let me know if you need more info!!



answers from Chicago on

I have not had this issue but we do try to watch the amount of sugar. I try to buy the Light juices since they have less sugar, and we do water them down for the most part. I also watch the grams of sugar. One thing my kids really like in the summer is water with lime added. I make a pitcher of water (we use the Brita filter pitcher)and slice up a lime and add to the water. You can add Splenda if preferred. No dyes, and low sugar content.



answers from Chicago on

I was like you, gave my daughter "light" juices and sugar free stuff thinking sugar was the problem. Found out the hard way that sugar wasn't causing or contributing to hyperactivity, the dyes and chemicals were. Sometimes high fructose corn syrup is the culprit also. I agree to check out the feingold diet and if you follow it strictly, I think you will notice a change. Problem is is that is very restrictive, time-consuming and expensive. It's also very frustrating to have your child go to a birthday party or school and eat something that ruins the whole day. I described it to people and my daughter as an allergy so it made it a little easier.. she knew what she was "allergic" to and what she wasn't, but it's still hard. Long story short, we aren't doing Feingold anymore since she had to start taking ADD type medicines to counteract a medication she had to receive for absence seizures but if my memory serves me, you should switch to organic juices and if you follow Feingold you have to watch the type of juice also. Apple is no good, berries are no good. A lot of the fruit is no good since it has salicylates (sp??) -- I think we did a lot of organic lemonade and watered down organic pear nectar. Good luck!



answers from Seattle on

Red food dye causes my child to become paranoid, aggressive, psycopathic. If you want to see if it is the sugar (in the fruit juice) or the dye, you can give him plain water sweetened with agave or natural sugar and colored with beet powder or blended blueberries. The reaction that my son has to dyes is dramatic. BTW, orange juice causes a similar reaction, but he needs to drink it in greater quantities, or over several consequtive days.



answers from State College on

Have you tried coconut water? There are many natural flavors available- go for ones that are all natural- no Splenda or artificial anythings. I have seen reactions to artificial colors and sweetners like these in other kids too. Try squeezing a lemon or lime in his water. If you slowly decrease the amounts of juice- 60/40, 50/50, 40/60 and on you can get it down to about 25% which shouldn't be too bad.
Good Luck, C. OTR/L



answers from Chicago on

well, I don't know the answers as we don't have these issues. It caught my eye because my friend's son has many issues, food allergies being one of them. She mentioned the red dye was a huge trigger for him.

I really just want to say you guys going through this amaze me. In this day & age to go completely organic, dye chemical free, process free, etc. etc. is not exacty easy to do, or change habits, or always financially feesable.
& if you have other kids who DON'T have these issues.
(my friend has 2 other boys & a girl & one on the way) I honestly DO NOT know how she does it.

So hang in there, I hope you find the triggers & get things on a smoother path. If I had not heard from others, I would have NEVER thought of red dye 40 as a trigger for a 'specific' behavior. Not good for you, most everything we injest or do.

D.~ SAHM to 6y/o B/G twins & 3 1/2 y/o girl



answers from Chicago on

First off, let me say that I have walked in your shoes, and still am!
Things really came to a head with my daughter when she was 4. That is when I realized that she wasn't the typical hyper kid. By 5, I had done enough research online to realize that it was probably food allergies, but all of the blood testing and the scratch tests we had done at the allergist had ruled out everything- they showed that she was allergic to nothing, yet she was still stuffy a lot too and we finally took out her tonsils, which still helped nothing.

I finally, feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start, removed red 40 after realizing that the snowcones we were going to get on Fridays (as a treat if she had had a good week at preschool) were making her behavior really atrocious that night. I took her off of red for 2 years and it was a lifesaver. It took about 2 months to COMPLETELY get it out of her system (beware, the strangest things have colors- bread, frozen meals, bbq sauce...) and then realized that yellow 5 seemed to affect her as well, so we removed ALL coloring from all the foods that enter our home and her mouth.
Still, a year or so later, she was obviously reacting to things, and I did some research and just this past summer found the Feingold diet, which has truly truly turned her life around. She reacts VERY strongly to apples (as we have tried to re-introduce foods now.) We have also started therapy (which it sounds like you probably do since you have a diagnosis) and she also has SPD, OCD, and was recently diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome. My daughter turned 8 in Sept, if you are wondering, so this has been a lifelong process in trying to tweak her diet and figure out the association between what she eats and what behavior changes it causes.
I commend you for posting, and for doing research and caring what goes into your son's diet. It really is overwhelming and a huge struggle at first as you have to monitor every little bite and every thing you buy when you shop, but believe me when I say it is SO worth it. Imagine not struggling with the aggression (the biting, the hitting, the kicking, the scratching, the screaming) and being able to do a "normal" trip to the park or whatever. Diet changes have really allowed us to do that, and I never ever thought we would.

If you have any questions, you're welcome to contact me.
You can find info on the Feingold diet at: There are tons of stories on there just like ours.

And don't feel bad about not knowing- our society ENCOURAGES us to eat things that aren't even really food, much less good for us. The important thing is to stop once you know it.


Oh, also wanted to add this- dont' rule out something at school- could it be something new like brighter lights, new carpet smell, shoes that feel too tight suddenly, a change in where he naps/rests, a change in their routine, different handsoap or cleaning supplies, etc etc.



answers from McAllen on

My cousin also had aggression issues resulting from Red 40, however after removing Red 40 from their diet, she became the lovely child we all remembered. It is best to try to steer clear of artificial dyes, allergic or not. Hope this helps!

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