Tuesday, November 25, 2008

can food dyes make your child look bipolar?

Well, it sure did for my son. There aren't any studies that have looked at this issue, so I'm kind of going out on a limb here. But I got to thinking seriously about this after listening to Dr. Greg Keck speak at a dinner conference last night. He said how much it bothers him that people think their kids are Bipolar or ADHD when they are really still behaving normally for their age. It made me decide it's time to share more specifics about what effect food dyes really had on my son, Ben.

Ben has always been a smart, friendly, creative child. Teachers love him, he makes friends easily, and he really is an all around great kid. But he used to have a much darker side too. He used to have unpredictable bouts of anger, tantrums, rages, insults, defiance, the list went on and on. His behavior used to get really ugly some days, but only at home, never at school or anywhere with other people. He even once shouted that he wanted to blow up the house with me in it. It was really scary, even for me, and I'm trained to work with explosive children. It's a whole different thing when it's your own child going nuts.

Then I started limiting the dyes because I thought they made his brother hyper. Well, here's where it gets interesting. Ben's rages, tantrums and all that yuck, it just stopped happening. He's been off dyes completely for more than a year. Guess when the only tantrums have happened... when he's eaten food dyes. I'm serious about this. The only major outbursts (and I can count them on one hand) happened when he ate something at school or when we slipped and didn't realize there was a food dye.

The worst one was when he ate a whole plate of banana peppers. He even thought he was seeing things. I still am putting that one in the category of over-active imagination for Ben, because his "make believe" world is very real to him. I realize that's a serious psychiatric symptom, but how bizarre is it that the only 2 times he has ever complained of that, he has had big doses of food dye within 24 hours?! I've seen articles about food dyes having a neuro-toxic affect on the brain. Well there you go. I don't want to go any further down that kind of path if changing my diet is all it takes to avoid it.

I don't want to minimize Bipolar Disorder and the fact that it is a real disorder. I've worked with truly bipolar children. I think when there is a clear family history of such a disorder, that is something that needs to be assessed by a professional.

I also encourage parents to consider their child's trauma history. (I feel compelled to mention that as I'm spending 2 days at a conference on trauma and attachment.) If anything scary or dangerous has ever happened to your child, whether they remember it or not, it can affect their later behavior for years.

Ben had pieces of this too. He had too many babysitters when he as 0-2 years old. My friends kept moving and then military families were moving left and right after 911. It meant I had to keep finding new sitters for my part time work schedule. It took it's toll on Ben as an abandonment issue, even though he only went to those sitters once a week. A big part of his problem was that when I put him in his room, he freaked out because he felt like I was leaving him again. After reading Beyond Consequences by Bryan Post and Heather Forbes, I started talking to Ben and explaining what was happening. I would say things like, "I think you get scared that I'm going to leave you again and that's what makes you get so upset." This approach helped him tremendously. He really gained insight into why his feelings got overwhelming and can talk about it better without freaking out. But I still think the main freak out was food dye related, and the progress we made is largely because he is no longer experiencing toxic effects of petrochemicals. Here's a good artificial on that: How food companies fool consumers with food coloring ingredients made from petrochemicals

But the bottom line is, I feel like I rescued the great kid that Ben is, and got rid of the screaming, demon defiant mess, all by getting food dyes out of the diet. You don't have to believe me. You don't have to try it yourself. If you would rather get prescription for a stimulant, mood stabilizer, or anti-psychotic there are plenty of doctors who will oblige you in 5 minutes or less. But if it really is the fake foods we feed our kids that contribute to this, don't our children deserve to have their parents figure it out and fix it?

Please share your own stories if you have seen anything similar.


The Blairs said...

You are such a wonderful mother. People don't understand how hard it is to struggle daily with these diets. The also don't understand how amazing the results can be.

We've been doing no dyes, preservatives, and no HFCS for about 6-8 weeks(can't remember exactly)and I have to fight for my kids everyday. School, church, grandparents, it is so hard to make sure they stick with it. Since when did schools start handing out candy instead of stickers or stamps?

Anyway, we started the diet just to be healthier, but I had read it could help with asthma (which my son has). He has been off all medicine for about 3 weeks and he is breathing better than he ever has. It is truly amazing to me b/c I didn't expect it to happen. I firmly believe a healthy diet w/out all the crap is responsible, and it really encourages me to continue.

Lastly, I hate all the medicating going on with kids today. Dr.'s are so eager to prescribe it b/c parents want it. I think it is b/c they are lazy. It is much easier to give your child a pill than it is to work on diet, excersise, structure, etc. That is such a shame.

The things we have been working on in our home is of course diet, making sure they get lots of exercise, and a good nights rest. (They go to bed between 6:30 and 7:00, and they love it). The differences are amazing. I only wish more people would try it.

Love you blog. It is such an inspiration to me, and a great source of information. I'm so glad your kids are responding so well to all the things you do for them.

The Blairs said...

One more thing. My kids all have colds this week and before I went to the store for dye-free tylenol, all I had was the red stuff. Oh my gosh, if anyone needs an obvious sign that dyes affect behavior, there it is. They were bounding off the wall, moody, and got upset so easily. This was all after only two doses. Then I got dye-free kind, but decided I didn't want to give it to them unless they really needed it, so we were doing humidifier and vicks and cool baths and that all worked.

It's so neat that I feel such a difference in me. The old me would have kept them full of meds until they were better, now I'm finding other ways to deal with illness that I think are safer and better for my kids.

food dye diaries said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence. It's a little scary to put my story out there so publicly, but if other families are helped as much as mine has been, then it is definitely worth it.