I have four kids - currently ages 10, 7, 3, and 1. My oldest child, Brenna, has never shown any sensitivities to food dyes. At least that I can remember. Daniel, who is 7, and Carrie, who is 3, have the biggest reactions. Ben, who is 1, hasn't shown any signs of a sensitivity - but also hasn't been given a lot of dyed foods since he doesn't eat candy yet.
A few years ago, maybe 3 or so, Daniel began to have, on occasion, a massive temper tantrum. He would tighten his arms to his side and yell so loud the veins in his neck would bulge. Then the tears would start and before long he'd be on the floor kicking and screaming. Sometimes this would go on for 15 minutes. These episodes were so bizarre compared to his normal behavior. They were awful to deal with, especially since at the time, we thought they were a behavior problem and treated them as such. I remember one in Target and another in a parking garage. They happened relatively infrequently so by the time the next one happened I'd forgotten all them. After about 4 such tantrums, I started to ask what he'd eaten (thinking sugar at the time) and discovered that he'd had several packs of fruits snacks in one afternoon. As a guess, I banned them from our house and told everyone not to give him fruit snacks. I even remember asking my sister who is a pediatrician, if she'd ever heard of anyone having those kind of reactions to fruit snacks. She hadn't.
In December of 2011, we planned a fun night of driving around looking at Christmas lights. We wanted to end the evening at Krispy Kreme. Daniel decided about 15 minutes into our trip that he was thirsty and he would not stop whining about it. Slowly it escalated to hitting the seats, thrashing, yelling, crying, kicking, and screaming. We threatened not to take him to get donuts, but that didn't even phase him. He was ruining the night for everyone. Finally, we drove home so that he and I could get out of the van and I could just put him to bed. But when I got out and opened the doors, he wouldn't come out. He just kept screaming and kicking and he had this wild look in his eyes. It was like a scene from the movies. I remember Michael getting in the van, but I can't remember if he was able to coax Daniel out or if he had physically take him out. When we got him inside, and Michael left with girls to go get donuts, Daniel got his drink. I gently said it was time to go upstairs to bed and he just walked right up and laid down. All of the fight was gone out of him and he was exhausted. I remember thinking that was really strange, but I knew he hadn't eaten any fruit snacks so I couldn't figure out why he would act that way. We've had maybe one or two episodes since then. Neither involved fruit snacks.
Two weeks ago, the older kids all took swimming lessons. Their instructor let them pick out candy when they were finished each day. On Monday, Daniel chose airheads. He ate the whole bag on the way home and then we had lunch. Following lunch, I offered the kids a homemade yogurt popsicle. For some reason, Carrie had first choice and she picked the one with the blue handle. Daniel began to get mad because he wanted that one and, as before, his tantrum escalated. Before long he was screaming and writhing on the floor. My friend Sherri and her daughter had stopped by to pick up bread and they were watching this whole thing unfold. I was so embarrassed by his behavior. Nothing could get him to calm down. I couldn't get him to go to another room or anything. Finally, we all walked out to the front porch to talk, just leaving him on the kitchen floor kicking and screaming. After about 10 minutes of this, it dawned on me that he might have eaten something that triggered the tantrum. Michael found the wrapper in the car, and sure enough it had Red Dye 40 in it. Sherri works with a lot of kids who are not able to have dyes and very quickly we began to put the pieces of his puzzle together. Michael went back in to talk to him and once his tantrum was done, he was back to his normal self. They did some research together on the computer and then he calmly ate the other yogurt pop.
Last week we went on vacation and decided to keep it dye free, just to see if we could prove what we suspected. On Monday or Tuesday night (all the days run together), I was putting the kids to bed and an argument broke out over who would get to sleep with the top quilt. Daniel had said Brenna could have it, but then he changed his mind and in no time he had descended into a major fit, just like the one over the popsicle handle. I tried to deal with it. Michael tried to deal with it. I walked back into the living room in frustration because he hadn't had any candy. But then I realized we'd had ice cream 3 nights in a row... sure enough Blue Belle ice cream has Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. Bingo. When he calmed down, I hugged him and told him I was sorry I hadn't checked the ingredients. The ice cream had those dyes in it. And through tears, he said, "Mom, why does that stuff make me act like that but it doesn't do it to Brenna or Carrie?" I had to tell him I didn't know. But by the next morning, we'd discovered that it does do that to Carrie, too.
Since arriving at the condo for vacation, Carrie had not slept through the night. She's been sleeping through the night since she was 8 weeks old so this was definitely out of the ordinary. Let me back up to say, that over the years, there've been times when she wakes up screaming but doesn't seem to really be awake so we just lay her back down and mostly she goes right back to sleep. In her own room, it hasn't ever been a big deal. I don't think it ever happened more than two nights in a row either.
The first night of vacation, she woke up around 5 am screaming. She was sitting up, facing the wall and yelling/crying very loud. When I tried to touch her, she jerked away from me. When I asked questions or tried to talk to her she would not respond in any way. This lasted for about 5 minutes or more and then stopped - as if she'd woken up. By then everyone else was awake, including Ben so we just made the best of it and walked down to the beach to see the sun coming up. The next night it happened in the middle of the night. We quickly moved her to the living room, where she had her 5-10 minute fit and then very easily went back to bed. By the third night, I was really getting frustrated. I don't do well with interrupted sleep and I could not figure out what was going on. She woke up screaming again, staring at the wall, not letting us touch her, sometimes hitting her head against the wall, and not responding to anything we said. We let her finish in the living area and I asked her if she had to go to the bathroom. She whispered, "No. If we go in there we have to be very quiet because Grandma and Papa are sleeping." Michael and I just looked at each other dumbfounded. Seconds ago she was screaming her head off. I asked her if she had been crying and she said no. Apparently she woke up and didn't remember a thing. It was so weird. Michael asked if she wanted to go back to bed and she said yes. Just like that it was over. But as they were walking out of the room, I suddenly had an epiphany and grabbed my computer. I spent the next two hours reading everything I could find on Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6. Turns out, what she had was called a night terror and yes, the dyes can trigger it.
The next day we didn't give her any dyes. About two hours after she went to bed, but before the adults had gone to bed, she began to cry out again. I was bummed because I thought I'd figured out the problem. She wasn't quite as loud and she didn't bang her head. Still, she wouldn't let anyone touch her and she stared ahead at the wall. I asked my mom to come try to calm her down and that didn't work either. (But it was good for mom to get to see the episode.) Mom and I left the room and Michael stayed - planning to to bring her into the living room to try to wake her up. Instead, he asked her if she'd like to go to sleep and she willing laid her head down and went back to sleep. So it was a much milder episode that night. We attribute that to the dyes still working their way out of her system. She was completely fine the rest of vacation. Slept through the night without a whimper.
We arrived home last night and this morning she and Michael were up before me. I have not had a chance to clear out my pantry yet and she ate cereal with the dyes in it. (Life, cinnamon) Michael went to church and I kept the little kids home. She was wild! She was aggressive with Ben. She was running everywhere. She was flipping her body all over the place on the couch. Head on the couch, feet in the air. I put her in time out. I fussed at her. She kept encouraging Ben to climb the steps. Even letting him go right past her while she just sat there. She yelled. She was just so hyperactive I was going crazy! When Michael got home, he kind of took over corralling her. Half joking, I finally said, in exasperation "What did you feed her for breakfast?" When he said cereal, I knew what had happened. Sure enough, it has Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. Thankfully, right now she's sleeping it off. I'm praying it will be out of her system by the time she wakes up.
I have read lots of articles over the past week and I am way overwhelmed. Here are a few things spinning in my head:
- The increase in the amount of food dyes consumed by people over the last 50 years is something like a 5 fold increase.
- The European Union is banning the food dyes. Many companies make a dye free version of their food that they sell in the European Union, but they will not remove the dyes for us here in the States.
- The FDA does not believe that there is a strong enough link between food dyes and hyperactivity in kids (or any other negative reaction) to ban the dyes.
- A lot of the time, the dye is put in the food to make you think there is real fruit or vegetable in it, when there's not. Basically... it's there to fool you.
- Some foods (I think chocolate pudding was one - it would be green) would be a whole different color and not appealing if they didn't dye it.
- There are so many different ways the 'reaction' can manifest itself. I've seen everything from hyperactivity, to bed wetting, to asthma, to tantrums and night terrors. Even allergic reactions.
- The dyes are in lots of things you don't expect. Like toothpaste and vanilla ice cream.
And so much more. The truth is, the dyes probably affect all of us and you as well. If we paid attention, we might discover a lot about what causes certain moods/feelings/concentration issues/or hyperactivity. These are really an unnecessary additive to our food and I hope the FDA will ban them. Soon.