The Links Between Diet and Behavior
The influence of nutrition on mental health
January 2008
Report of the British Associate Parliamentary Food and Health Forum

A group composed of members of Parliament and outside experts such as nutritionists, scientists, and doctors, have called for the removal of artificial coloring and nonessential preservatives in foods and beverages sold in Britain. They have also recommended that doctors be trained in nutrition, and that children and pregnant women, in particular, eat more oily fish, fish oils, or other sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids.

  • "We recommend that the Royal Medical Colleges and the GMC consider upgrading the role of nutrition in the medical curriculum."

  • "We recommend that regulations should be introduced to prohibit all artificial colours and non-essential preservatives in food products and soft drinks."

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    Page 3, Executive Summary, paragraph 3, end:
  • "... A deficiency of omega-3 EFAs [Essential Fatty Acids] is associated with certain mental and behavioural disorders, such as ADHD, depression, dementia, dyspraxia, greater impulsivity and aggressive behaviour, but the association is still only partly understood."

    Page 4:

  • "The scanty training for GPs and other medical professionals in nutrition and diet detracts from their ability to support their patients' physical and mental health; this issue should be addressed by the Royal Medical Colleges and the General medical Council if we are to tackle the problems and costs associated with mental as well as physical ill health."

    The following paragraphs are numbered in the report, and the
    numbers are referred to below to aid you in finding the source.
  • 5. - "We recommend that the Royal Medical Colleges and the GMC consider upgrading the role of nutrition in the medical curriculum."

  • 9. - "We recommend that regulations should be introduced to prohibit all artificial colours and non-essential preservatives in food products and soft drinks."

  • 11. - "We recommend that the Department of Health encourages NHS Trusts to adopt an approach ... which undertakes a nutritional assessment of patients suffering from depression and patients with earl symptoms of psychosis and provides dietary advice to them."

  • 12. - "We recommend that consideration of the outcome of the next trial of nutritional supplements in Young Offender Institutes should be a priority for the National Offender Management Service ..."

  • 13. - "We recommend that any dietary intervention that can be used to improve the behaviour and mental well-being of offenders held in custody should be given serious consideration by the NOMS [National Offender Management Service]."

  • 14. - "We recognise that dietary effects differ according to genetic disposition." [Dr. Feingold said the same thing in 1973.]

  • 22. - "Arachidonic acid (AA) from omega-6 fatty acids and DHA from omega-3 fatty acids each make up some 8% of the dry weight of the brain. ... Some 30% - 50% of the retina is made from DHA; severe DHA deficiency can reduce the efficiency of the initial stage of retinal signalling by more than a thousand-fold. Omega-3 deficiency is associated with poor night vision and other problems with visual and spatial processing and focussing attention."

  • 24. - "The approximately equal presence of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the brain has led to the view among some researchers that dietary intake of the two should ideally also be balanced equally. However, the current intake ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 varies from 1:15 to 1:30 depending on diet and other factors. A number of scientists working in the field of nutrition believe this "imbalance" has important consequences for our mental health."

  • 28. - "This dramatic change in the human diet during the last century has important implications because LA (omega-6) inhibits the conversion of ALA (omega-3) to the longer chain ... (EPA and DHA), because they compete for the same ... enzymes."

  • 51. - "There is evidence that lower DHA levels are associated with a shorter gestation length and a greater risk of preterm delivery. The lower the birth-weight, the greater is the risk of brain disorders."

  • 61. - "... We believe that pregnant women who do not wish to eat oily fish should be encouraged to consider taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy and while they are breast-feeding. In this context we note the advice we have received from other contributors to our inquiry that it is virtually impossible to overdose on omega-3 PUFAs."

  • 72. - "These childhood disorders [dyslexia, ADHD and autism] involve complex gene-environment interactions but nutritional factors and diet influence this interaction."

  • Tartrazine
    89. - "Professor Neil Ward conducted a RCT [randomized controlled trial] to measure the effect of tartrazine on children, in which the children's blood serum and urine were analysed. This revealed that the ADHD children had relatively low levels of zinc. When the children were given the tartrazine containing solution their low levels of zinc became further depleted - they were excreting it at a higher rate through their urine than the control children, whose zinc levels were depleted less significantly and more slowly." [Note: zinc levels were depleted by tartrazine in normal children as well.]

  • 90. - "Tartrazine and sunset yellow [Yellow #5 and #6] are azo dyes and it is believed that they could be acting as chelating agents, binding the available blood zinc in the body to form complex metals, which are then excreted. Azo dyes inhibit gut enzyme activity and this can induce inadequate digestion. This could explain why many ADHD children are unable to absorb all the nutrients in the food they eat. However, although azo dyes are associated with behavioural changes in hyperactive children, the precise reasons for this association are not known."

  • 92. - "The University of Southampton study recruited over 140 children in each of two age groups ... Two different mixes of commonly used artificial additives were tested against placebo. For both 3 year old and 8 year old children it was found that certain genes involved in the release of histamine from cells, were associated with greater responses to the test mixtures."

  • 93. - "The Lancet reported that this study "demonstrates that using an aggregated measure of hyperactivity based on parent ratings, teacher ratings, direct observation of behaviour and, in the case of older children, direct testing of attention, certain mixtures of additives based on artificial colours and benzoate preservative, had adverse effects on the hyperactive behaviour of some children. The significant effects observed were an increase in the mean level of hyperactivity for the group ... the results are not limited to an extreme group of children showing ADHD."

  • 94. - "Professor Jim Stevenson, who led this research, said, "we now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours and benzoate preservatives can adversely influence the behaviour of children."

  • 95. - "Commenting on this research, Dr. Alexandra Richardson said: "significant changes in children's behaviour could be produced by the removal of colourings and additives from their diet (and) benefit would accrue or all children from such a change and not just for those already showing hyperactive behaviour or who are at risk of allergic reactions."

  • 96. - "The media attention that followed the public release of these findings was soon followed by statements from many of the UK's leading supermarkets, which emphasised that they either had withdrawn, or are withdrawing, artificial food additives from their own-brand labels. We welcome this voluntary action on the part of these retailers, which at least provides parents with a choice as to whether or not their children are exposed to artificial additives."

  • 97. - "We welcome the decision of the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) to review the safety of all food additives, starting with colours. The FSA has shared the findings of the Southampton University research with the EFSA so it can be taken into account as part of the EFSA review."

  • 98. - "We note the FSA has amended its advice to consumers in the light of this research to say: "Parents of children showing signs of hyperactivity are being advised that cutting out certain artificial food colours from their diets might have some beneficial effect on their behaviour." We would encourage the FSA to consider providing general advice to all parents about the desirability of limiting their children's consumption of artificial food additives on the precautionary principle..."

  • 99. - "... We recommend that regulations should be introduced to prohibit all artificial colours and non-essential preservatives in food products and soft drinks."


  • Breakfast and school performance (Pg. 23)
  • Vitamins and minerals
    • Iron (Pg. 24)
    • Zinc (Pg. 25)
  • Nutrition and mental health
    • Depression (Pg. 26)
    • Schizophrenia (Pg. 28)
    • General mental health (Pg. 28)
    • Dementia (Pg. 29)
    • Diet and violent behaviour (Pg. 30)
  • Public policy options (Pg. 33)
    • 155. "We believe public funding of the additional research we have recommended is fully justified ...."
    • 158. "...Because of the major potential benefit for the fields of education, crime, health and the well-being of vulnerable sections of society, we believe that more research is urgently needed in the area of nutrition and behaviour, and we recommend that the Government devotes more substantial resources to this, especially in corrective institutions and care homes."
  • Government advice on diet. (Pg. 33)
  • Supplements (Pg. 35)
  • Fortification of food (Pg. 36)
  • Genetic modification of food (Pg. 36) "It is clearly preferable to encourage people to adopt healthier diets."
  • Appendix (Pg. 37)
    • Oral evidence
    • Written evidence
    • Glossary