MarthaBy Martha Bryce RN, BSN, MSN

So why is there artificial dye in so many of the foods we eat and serve to our children? That simple question is one that I never thought twice about until my son, who is now 11 years old, reached preschool.

At that time my family struggled with a very concerning problem. Several times per month my son would wake up at night screaming and thrashing. My husband and I would run to his room to watch his huge thrashing motions in the bed and often see him hitting the walls with his flailing arms and kicking legs. We would embrace him to try to comfort him but our touch seemed to make the episodes even worse. These episodes would last about 45 extremely upsetting minutes with us doing our best to calm him, and then he would fall back to sleep in what appeared to be pure exhaustion. Occasionally the episode would repeat itself once again about one hour later. I of course described these events to our pediatrician who told me that our son seemed to be experiencing “night terrors,” and that he would grow out of them with time. We accepted this reasonable answer and following these “bad nights” we were all left exhausted and drained.

Through trial and error we learned that taking our son to our living room and showing him a familiar video was the most effective tool that we had to break the cycle, but the effectiveness of that was inconsistent. We also noticed that on the day after a “bad night,” our son would be easily frustrated and over-react to situations with what seemed to be excessive crying that could not be comforted. He would say to me “mommy I just can’t stop.” Even at his young age he seemed to know that it was out of his control.

Life went on this way for approximately one year when we had one of the worst “bad nights” ever. The usual pattern of his waking and thrashing began but it lasted for at least an hour and a half. We finally got him back to sleep and within 45 minutes he woke again and we repeated the episode. Another 45 minutes passed and he woke again in the same state, at approximately 3:00 a.m. We at this point were preparing to take him to the emergency room when he fell fast asleep, probably out of pure exhaustion. The following day, in the midst of my extreme concern, I began to mentally review the previous day’s events. Like a light bulb going on in my head I recalled the following:

In the morning I had brought my son to preschool and noticed a fellow Mom carrying a tray of really red cupcakes for her son’s birthday. I recalled saying to her in a joking fashion “those are some really red cupcakes!” She told me that her son’s favorite color was red and so she dyed not only the frosting but also the cake. This made the cupcakes bright red from top to bottom. I had never seen anything like it before.

A short time later, the hospital where I worked was celebrating a milestone event and had large cookies made with the hospital logo printed across the front of the cookie in a deep indigo blue color. The cookie was visually impressive and I brought mine home for my son as a treat. That night was a repeat performance of the “worst night ever”: Extreme screaming and kicking happening 3 times over in one evening.

My awareness level was tuned into the dye at this time and although this was certainly not a scientific study I could see the correlation with my son. We removed dye from my son’s diet immediately. That was over 5 years ago and have not had one single episode of our night screaming/ kicking since. I have my proof and in attempt to help other families or individuals my husband and I have tried to provide a site with informational links for use when considering the question of Why Dye?