Food Color and Autism: A Meta-Analysis

Adv Neurobiol. 2020:24:481-504. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-30402-7_15.


Autism has been increasing dramatically since its description by Leo Kanner in 1943. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2018 has identified 1 in 59 children (1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls) has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autistic spectrum disorders and ADHD are complex conditions in which nutritional and environmental factors play major roles. It is important to understand how food can have an impact on their current and future health. Appealing food colors stimulate the consumption of different food products. Since 2011, it is evident that dyes are linked to harmful effects in children. Artificial dyes have neurotoxic chemicals that aggravate mental health problems. Many families with autistic children avoid food dyes in their diet in order to avoid behavioral issues. A study reported that there is a correlation between yellow dye and sleep disturbance. Food colors Blue 1 and 2, Green 3, Red 3, Yellow 5 and 6, Citrus Red 2, and Red 40 can trigger many behaviors in most kids. Artificial food color usually contains petroleum and is manufactured in a chemical process that includes formaldehyde, aniline, hydroxides, and sulfuric acids. Most impurities in the food color are in the form of salts or acids. Sometimes lead, arsenic, and mercury may be present as impurities. The U.S. FDA is yet to study the effects of synthetic dyes on behavior in children. A study conducted at Southampton University in England found a link between food dyes and hyperactive behavior in children. The research does not prove that food coloring actually causes autism spectrum disorder, but there seems to be a link. This chapter attempts to provide a broad review of the available literature on food color and the epidemiology, etiology, prevention, and treatment of autistic spectrum disorder.

Keywords: ADHD; ASD; Artificial coloring; Autism; Color additives; Food colors; Food refusal; Hyperactive; Mercury; Natural coloring; Zinc deficiency.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / chemically induced
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diet therapy
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / chemically induced*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diet therapy
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology
  • Child
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Food Coloring Agents / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Male


  • Food Coloring Agents