Food Additives

food additives

By Tammy Preston, MS

Reduce Symptoms of Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder by Eliminating Food Colorings and Preservatives

There has been long-standing debate over the possibility that some food additives contribute to ADHD symptoms. Although many parents swear that eliminating additives from their kids’ diets reduced ADHD symptoms, the medical community has traditionally not taken these claims seriously.

Pioneering Research of Dr. Benjamin Feingold
Food additives first came under suspicion back in 1974 when Benjamin Feingold, MD published the book Why Your Child Is Hyperactive. In his book, Dr. Feingold argued that ADHD can be caused by food additives or preservatives, and that symptoms can go away once a child’s diet is changed. But many studies conducted since have been inconsistent in supporting his theory.

Research Supporting the Effects of Additives on Adult ADHD

Ban on Food Colorings

Recently, there has been closer examination of research done on the relationship between ADHD and food colorings and preservatives. The findings have surprised the medical community.

The European Food Safety Authority (FSA) panel has released a report based on their review of 22 studies on the effects of food additives on ADHD symptoms. Of the studies reviewed, 16 showed a connection between consumption of preservatives or colorings and hyperactive behavior. Based on their findings, the FSA has called for a European Union-wide ban on six artificial colors at the end of 2009, including tartrazine (E102), quinoline yellow (E104), sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), ponceau 4R (E124) and allura red (E129).

Although the additive sodium benzoate (E211) has also been linked to health problems, the FSA did not include this substance in its proposed ban. They indicated that sodium benzoate was exempted because it is a preservative rather than a color. And since it is an additive found in many soft drinks, its removal was judged to be too much of a technological and financial challenge.

More Evidence of the Danger of Food Colorings and Sodium Benzoate

In the spring of 2008, an editorial by pediatrics professor Andrew Kemp MD appeared in BMJ. Dr. Kemp advised that removal of food additives from the diet be part of standard initial treatment for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Kemp based his recommendation on a trial which showed an increase in hyperactivity among non-ADHD kids who were fed a diet high in food colorings and the preservative sodium benzoate.

How to Determine If Food Additives Are Contributing to Your Adult ADHD
Although the studies examining the connection between food additives and ADHD have focused on children, it is likely that these chemicals also affect adults, so it is certainly worth determining if food additives are contributing to your adult ADHD.

To test the effect of eliminating additives from your diet, start by reading packaging labels and then eliminating all additives to see if there is an improvement. If you do see an improvement after a week or so, then begin reintroducing those additives back into your diet one by one, to determine which contribute to your ADHD symptoms.

How do you know which ingredients are additives? There are thousands, and not all are clearly identified on packaging. But as a general rule of thumb, names of colors or abbreviations such as BHA or BHT indicate an additive. In fact most big, unrecognizable words on a label are probably chemical additives. A simpler rout to reducing additives in your diet is to eat less processed and more fresh food.

Which Additives Do The Studies Find to Be Harmful?
Although there are many additives that may pose health risks, here are those that the were focused on in the studies discussed above:

· Sodium Benzoate (E211) – A food preservative used in many processed foods and drinks. Avoid this one by eating more whole natural food.

· Tartrazine (E102) – Synthetic yellow dye often used in sweets, cakes and crackers.

· Quinoline Yellow (E104) – Synthetic dye found in sweets, pickles, and smoked fish. E104 is banned in the US.

· Sunset Yellow (E110) – Synthetic yellow dye found in many sweets, ice cream, and carbonated drinks.

· Carmoisine (E122) – Synthetic red dye frequently used in ready meals and sweets. This dye has been banned in the US.

· Ponceau 4R (E124) – Synthetic red dye often found in sweets, cookies crackers and drinks. E124 is banned in the US.

· Allura red (E129) – Synthetic red dye often found in sweets and soft drinks.


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