(WZZM) - More than five million children in this country are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but how many of them are truly have the condition?
Research has suggested a link between children who are hyper and appear to have ADHD and red dye #40.
Color additives have been used to enhance our food for nearly 150 years. The federal government began to oversee their use in the 1880's and in 1931 approved 15 dyes for food, medications, and cosmetics. Six of those colors are still being used today.
But do you know what the base ingredient is? It's petroleum, which is why the safety of food dyes has been debated for nearly 80 years.
Lately the focus has been on red dye #40. Nearly a dozen studies on red dye #40 since the 1980's show it may have an effect on children prone to hyperactivity.
Laura Kitchen doesn't need any research. She has seen its affects in her six year old son, Thomas.
"He loves to play with Lego's, he builds trucks together and builds trains," she says. "You can leave him alone in his for a couple hours and he doesn't come down for anything, very self-sufficient."
But Laura began to notice a definite personality change, "He was bouncing around non-stop just uncontrollably. Wouldn't listen wouldn't even focus on anything."
She was worried that her son may have ADHD and took him to neuropsychologist Dr. Michael Wolff, who treats children with hyper activity disorders. He recommended eliminating red dye #40 from Thomas' diet.
Thomas's mother noticed results right away, "When doing that he's that sweet gentle kid all the time." But after eating a food with red dye #40 there's a definite change. "He just gets this really kind of aggressive look like you can see a change in him."
As proof, Laura allowed Thomas to eat some foods with red dye so the change could be witnessed. Before eating the dye, Thomas calmly played with his sister. After the red dye #40, it took less than 15 minutes before he was nearly uncontrollable, "He would say to me I just can't control it I can't control what I do," his mom says.
Dr. Wolf viewed the video.When he looked at the "before" video, he said, "Everything's very solid there's no tremoring, no disorganization. He's playing with toys with good intent."
But after watching Thomas eat red dye #40, Wolf remarked, "He's a little bit more snide in the way that he's looking. There's intentional pushing the limits here. A lot more animated and aggressive."
They're classic signs of what Dr. Wolf calls an allergic reaction, "It can cause inflammation obviously the body is not used to taking a lot of petroleum based foods and it's something a lot of our bodies are having to adapt to more and more."
Dr. Wolff describes that inflammation as a disconnect along the nerves running through the brain. "Planning, reasoning and making decisions are all areas that seem to be influenced by areas that are sensitive to food dyes. You can see that activation even a little more here as to how it develops that hot spot in the right frontal part of the brain. It's too active and too engaged, it's hyper excitable at this point."
It's the part of the brain that is also associated with ADHD,"The primary reason may be there's more emotion in that right side of the brain and it usually does affect children with ADHD or possibly make them look ADHD than the average child," Dr. Wolff says.
So why hasn't the FDA removed red dye #40 from its list of approved food additives?
This is the statement the FDA sent WZZM after nearly two weeks of asking for an on camera interview.
"Individual anecdotal experiences from the elimination of a particular food item may not have been performed in a scientific manner and that many other factors may be responsible for any observed behavioral changes," the agency wrote.
In March of 2011, the FDA held a food dye hearing. The advisory committee listened to arguments against the use of food dyes as well as new research conducted on children and the effects of food dye on their social behavior.
In the end, the advisory committee to the FDA found insufficient evidence to support the connection between artificial food colorings and children with ADHD. The committee asked for more research and is currently delaying any action.
But that's not good enough for Thomas's mom. "I don't know why the FDA even approves for dye which is filled with chemicals to go into our food at all."
The FDA statement did not answer that question. But red dye #40 is clearly labeled on food ingredient lists. And Laura admits it's becoming easier to find products without it, "Almost everywhere is doing better with going dye free."
Other countries have also taken a look at the issue. Three years ago, the food regulatory body in the United Kingdom forced companies using Red Dye 40 in their products to put a warning label on the packaging letting parents know it could cause hyperactivity in their children.