Food Additives, Hyperactivity & Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Dr. Linda Posch MS SLP ND
Source: http://www.healthtruthrevealed.com
October 17, 2008


Recently, it has become clear that parents need to be more concerned than ever about chemical substances hidden in their children’s food. New scientific research is uncovering new findings regarding the affects of food additives on children that are quite disturbing.

Consumers who are aware of this new research are rightfully becoming more and more concerned about what exactly lurks in our so-called food supply. It has been common knowledge for quite some time that store-bought food is definitely over-processed and absolutely adulterated. Current and older concerns involved heating certain foods which resulted in the destruction of their nutritional value like the removal of their anti-oxidants. Additionally, the removal of valuable substances like wheat germ from flour, the mineral content from vegetables, mixing food stuffs with fructose, sugar, corn syrup or artificial sweeteners and the use of toxic pesticides diminished food values more and more. Unfortunately, new research points to a largely unknown level of omission in product labeling and the affects of food additives, especially on small children.The indifference of restaurants and food companies with regard to the lack of vitality and value of their products is quite evident. These companies continue to validate their lack of concern regarding the large quantities of chemical and high glycemic substances buried in our children’s food. Although minor concerns by some manufacturers have been shown by those who emphasize the use of whole grains in their food products, it is still true, as proven by any detailed exploration of cereal shelves, that children’s breakfast foods are regularly enhanced with white flour, white sugar, high fructose corn syrup and other unmentionables. All this, coupled with fruit flavored chewy snacks and sweet drinks disguised as some of the best liquid vitamins via aggressive marketing, puts the health status of our nation’s children at a definite disadvantage. The recent television commercials promoting the benign affects of high fructose corn syrup is one of the many examples of social programming by big food companies.

The level of irresponsibility of our manufacturers and restaurant chains goes far beyond the obvious. While they are poisoning the food supply, they are at the same time purposefully addicting us to this prepackaged garbage.

Besides perpetuating sharp glycemic spikes by using adulterating substances such as high fructose corn syrup and refined sugars, food suppliers consciously inundate their products with chemicals that initiate addictive pleasures. Unfortunately, this affects our families, and most importantly our children. The exploitative universal use of sugar and sugar-like substances creates a powerful psychological and physiological bond, not only to specific foods but also to a diet that generally delivers a massive gastronomical and neurological ‘kick’ to the consumer. The addictive power of sugar and food additives and the difficulty in escaping from its powerful kick is, revealed in William Dufty’s older, but still powerful exposition, “Sugar Blues.”

Food manufacturers regularly use artificial colors, texture modifiers and artificial flavors in food items to make them look and taste better, regardless of the consequences to the consumer. This is in addition to their passion for creating addictive food behaviors and utilizing sophisticated branding techniques to court repeat business for all their new and old products. Other reasons food corporations pack their products with additives and chemical preservatives is simply to extend the shelf life of the product; bottom line, its good and very profitable business. Food companies strive to eliminate waste and extend the shelf lives of their products, the damage to the consumer is nothing more than collateral.

Overall, chemicals and food additives are used to emulsify food, bleach it, disguise its bad taste, color it, flavor it, sweeten it, change or cover up smells, give food artificial texture, preserve and stabilize it.

Frances M. Lappé says in Diet for a Small Planet, “Would you choose to sprinkle 1/4 ounce of pesticides over your food every day? Or to ingest 150 pounds of assorted additives annually? Of course not. But in affect, that’s what the average American – however unwittingly – is doing. As a nation, our annual dose of these sometimes seriously life-altering chemicals is a staggering 2.6 billion pounds, or more than 1 million tons.”

Let’s take a look at the plethora of food additives prevalent in the United States food supply. According to a database administered by the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), which sponsors a program called the Priority-based Assessment of Food (PAFA), there are over 3,000 food additives. This includes classifications of direct, secondary-direct and color additives that are labeled as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).

The total list is referred to as the Everything-Added-to-Food in the United States (EUFUS) list. It is in the GRAS area that a great deal of subterfuge takes place- because these additives- regarded as ‘safe’ are not listed as separate ingredients on food labels. Their chemical contents, surprisingly large in number, are compressed and buried under the blanket of artificial flavoring, color, or preservative. Given the potential for adverse reactions, food additives are the secret scourge of the food supply, and as we shall see, a definite health risk for children. Food additives may be a major exacerbation for serious neurological conditions such as autism and hyperactivity.

Paul Chek, a fitness expert who is a trainer of trainers and clients seeking help with health and fitness, is appalled by the chemical contents of food. In his book, How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy, which discusses the amount of food additives in our food supply , he says, “Including chemicals used in food production from ground to stomach, the number rises to between 10,000 and 15,000 food additives regularly ingested by the American Public.”

The real problem concerning food additives is revealed in recent breakthrough studies on the combinations of food chemicals found in processed food items throughout the world. These studies suggest real threats to the human body from the consumption of snack and drink items common to the Western world, in particular, to our children. Via these studies, food additives and preservatives in combination with one another affected the ability of nerve cells to proliferate normally and also interfered with proper neurological signaling.

The consequences for small children are alarming because a child’s liver cannot fully detoxify. Their small size can compound toxicity in their young and delicate body systems. In fact, their size dictates the consumptions of larger amounts of food additives than what most governments throughout the world indicate as an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI), which is based on adult consumption.

In order to fully digest the impact of this recently identified hazard, let’s take a look a two of the most well-known studies to date.

Britain’s Karen Lau and her associates’ relatively new study reveals the potentially disturbing consequences to developing brain cells when interacting with combinations involving two common food flavor enhancers with two food colorings. The first food coloring was “Brilliant Blue,” used in the United States but banned in many European countries. The second, “Quinoline Yellow” is banned in Australia and Norway but is legal in many other countries. Aspartame, the common artificial sweetener and food flavoring made from aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol was the first of two flavor enhancers. The second was MSG, a nickname for L-glutamic acid, used in the USA and Europe, which has had a sordid reputation for a long time as causing Chinese restaurant syndrome whose symptoms are characterized by sweating, flushing and headaches. Although rare, heart palpitations and shortness of breath may occur.

For their test, two ‘cocktails’ were made. The first was MSG mixed with Brilliant Blue and the other was made with aspartame and Quinoline Yellow. Their affects were tested on mouse neuroblastoma cells, which were used in her experiments as the prototype for neurons. Following the experiment, the researchers discovered that the Brilliant Blue combination was the most powerful inhibitor of neural growth of the two. Both cocktails revealed a capacity for neural inhibition on neuroblastoma cells to be exceedingly greater than the individual affects of each ingredient alone. The researchers summed it up by saying, “…results indicate that certain combinations are potentially more toxic than might be predicted from the sum of their individual compounds.”

Indeed, the breakthrough study revealed a MSG/Brilliant Blue combination that resulted in neurotoxicity four times greater than the sum of the individual substances. The aspartame/Quinoline Yellow, though perhaps less potent in the affect on cells, still created up to seven times the toxicity of its individual additives. How can anyone, after reading these findings, not suspect that we have only scratched the surface of a much larger and more involved chemical labyrinth – toxicities which are inherent in the thousands of combinations of these multifarious substances.

Following these findings, researchers analyzed the contents of five British snacks and drinks and looked at the affect on a 22-pound child. They found that one snack and drink, containing these mixtures, could indeed cause nerve growth inhibition. This is a shocking commentary on the capacity of commonly used food additives to affect nerve cells. Consuming these substances, the researchers said, could have long- term neurological consequences.

The editors from the Autism Research Institute summarized the findings by saying, “This report provides yet more evidence supporting the theory that autism and related disabilities involve “excitotoxins” such as MSG and aspartame-and more proof that junk food, laced with preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and colorings, is a major culprit in the current epidemic of learning and behavioral disorders.” The findings may lead to a focus of experimental work that may explore in much more detail the possibility of additive affects on autism and children experiencing other neurogenic disorders, including ADD.

Jim Stevenson, a professor of psychology, led another breakthrough study at the University of Southampton. In it, he confirmed directly that certain food additives are a cause of hyperactivity in children. According to Elizabeth Rosenthal, a New York Times reporter, “It was the first time researchers conclusively and scientifically confirmed a link that had long been suspected by many parents. Numerous support groups for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have for years recommended removing such ingredients from diets, although experts have continued to debate the evidence.”

Researchers in the Stevenson study said, “A mix of additives commonly found in children’s foods increases the mean level of hyperactivity… The finding lends strong support for the case that food additives exacerbate hyperactive behaviors (in attention, impulsivity and over activity) at least into middle childhood.” Taking a clue from the fact that hyperactivity is a common symptom of autism, it may be that this finding could explain the beneficial affects achieved by autistic patients when they are placed on diets free of food chemicals. Although impactful and with ever skyrocketing rates, the population of autistic children is quite small compared to children with other hyperactive and developmental disorders. It is quite probably true that tens of thousands of children have had their own unique body balance upset by these toxic substances.

Unlike the Karen Lau study, the Stevenson study directly monitored children’s behavior, which was closely watched for a period of six weeks. The sample consisted of a randomly selected group of several hundred subjects, 8-9 year olds and 3 year olds, respectively. The children were given sodium benzoate, a preservative and several food colors in doses resembling those found in common, commercially marketed snacks. Each dosage was comparable to one or two servings of candy. The researchers provided these substances in the course of an overall meal protocol designed to avoid contamination of the experiment by the introduction of any other preservatives or food during the experiment. Conducted as a double-blind study, one group was fed sodium benzoate combined with other food additives while another random group of the same size was given a similar-appearing placebo. The children were monitored by a group of parents and teachers of school age children and were unaware of which group had taken which sample. The children’s levels of hyperactivity and inattention were then plotted via a computer test.

The experiment produced remarkable results. The actual experimental drink appeared to push the children into episodes of hyperactivity and to induce significantly shorter attention spans about one hour after consumption of the real sample. Behavior, according to the researchers, was significantly altered. The study was limited, however, because it could not identify the affect of specific additives. The conclusion of the researchers was that the chemical cocktail did affect attention capacities and hyperactivity, but could not track down the precise affect of the additives. Nonetheless, this is a viable starting point where the results point to the fact that further research is warranted.

Due to Lau’s and Stevenson’s initial experiments, one can expect more research testing food additive combinations in the near future. Unfortunately, decades of damage may have already been done to consumers via the degradation and adulteration of our food supply.


1. ALLURA RED AC (E129) – An orange-red food dye used in foods, beverages, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, synthetic liquid vitamins and some tattoo inks. It is a synthetic dye that replaced Amaranth E123 in the U.S. It is not recommended for children in Europe and banned in some countries.

2. ASPARTAME: A food chemical that is widely used as an artificial sweetener. This is a well-documented neurotoxin and exitotoxin that has well-documented and direct adverse affects on brain function. Aspartame accounts for the majority of adverse reaction complaints reported to the FDA.

3. BRILLIANT BLUE- FOOD DYE: A food dye used to raise appeal of foods and beverages such as condiments, candies, syrups, dairy products, icings, jellies, extracts, and powders. This food dye has been linked to rashes and migraines. A study published in The Lancet, a medical journal, revealed hyperactivity in children due to artificial food dyes.

4. BUTYLPARABEN: This is a member of a diverse and widely used family of chemicals used as a food preservative. The families of parabens are used as anti bacterial and antifungal agents in food, cosmetics, and medications.

5. HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP: This is a form of sugar derived from cornstarch called fructose. It is sweeter than sugar and also less expensive. It is used extensively in processed foods as a sweetener and also a preservative. It is associated with elevated LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, insulin insensitivity, and weight gain.

6. NATAMYCIN: This is an anti-fungal agent produced by fermenting the bacteria Streptomyces natalynsis. This bacterium is commonly found in soil. As a drug, it is used to treat Fusarium corneal infections and Fungal keratitis. Natamycin is used to stop fungal growth in meats and dairy products including yogurt, cheese, and sour cream.

7. POLYDIMETHYLSILOXANE: (PDMS): This is a silicon-based polymer with uses in the production of caulks, lubricants, adhesives, and cosmetics. PDMS is used in the treatment of head lice. Its application in food production is that of an anti-foaming and anti-caking agent and is widely used by fast food restaurants.

8. SODIUM NITRITE: This chemical compound is used in the curing of meat in order to prevent bacterial growth and also gives meats their rich dark red color. Sodium nitrite is a well-documented toxin and is lethal in larger doses. August 2008 brings the US based news of a meat packing plant employee who gave her neighbor sodium nitrite capsules; just enough to hospitalize the neighbor, but not a large enough dose to kill her. The point, the employee of the meat packing plant was familiar with the potential toxicity of sodium nitrite and used her knowledge to her advantage to cause harm to another.

9. REDUCED IRON: This chemical compound is produced by the reduction of iron ore via a reduction gas such as natural gas. The end result is a metallic iron. The oxidation state during this process provides the “nutritional iron” found in processed food items. Reduced iron is often disguised as your daily dose of nutritional iron in synthetic vitamin supplements. Reduced iron has industrial applications in the steel industry.

10. MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE: A flavoring agent. It is a sodium salt of an amino acid called glutamic acid. It is made by fermentation with products like molasses and food starch from cereal grains or tapioca. The FDA has classified MSG a food additive that is “generally recognized as safe” while recognizing that some individuals have short-term adverse reactions to MSG. The FDA requires MSG to be listed on food ingredient labels and on restaurant menus when used.

11. SODIUM BENZOATE (E211) PRESERVATIVE. It is bacteria static and fungi static in acidic products like soft drinks, condiments, salad dressings, pickles, juices, jams, squash, cough syrups and mouthwash. Research by the South Hampton University study for the Food Standards Agency found that along with other additives, this preservative was found to affect behavior problems and intelligence in children. According to claims from a professor at Univ. of Sheffield, Sodium benzoate may have an adverse affect on DNA, which may play a part in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, plus help accelerate the overall aging process.

12. SUNSET YELLOW (E110) V – FOOD DYE. An orange-yellow color used widely in drinks, sweets, and other foods. In the study for the FSA in September 2007 it is included as 1 out of 6 artificial colorings that appear to induce hyperactivity in children.

13. TARTRAZINE (E102) FOOD DYE. Synthetic lemon yellow dye from coal tar and found in snacks, drinks, powders and condiments. Found to cause hyperactivity in children when mixed with several other food additives and certain preservatives.

Alison Schonwald, MD, FAAP, a specialist in behavioral and developmental psychiatric pediatrics at Children’s Hospital in Boston, was quoted in an American Academy of Pediatrics journal, Ground Rounds, in the Feb 2008 issue: “Despite increasing data supporting the efficacy of stimulants in preschoolers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) parents and providers understandably seek safe and effective interventions that require no prescription. A recent meta-analysis of 15 trials concludes that there is ‘accumulating evidence that neurobehavioral toxicity may characterize a variety of widely distributed chemicals.’ [Schab DW, et al. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2004;25:423-434] Some children may be more sensitive to the affects of these chemicals and the authors suggest there is a need to better identify responders. In real life, practitioners faced with hyperactive preschoolers have a reasonable option to offer parents. For the child without a medical, emotional, or environmental etiology of ADHD behaviors, a trial of a preservative-free, food coloring-free diet is a reasonable intervention.”

Already reeling from chemical affects in their preschoolers, parents are understandably reluctant to have their children treated for ADHD with even more chemicals, even in the form of pharmaceuticals. A less threatening approach for an ADHD symptomatic child would be a toxin-additive-free plan for the child’s regular consumption. A trial could prove effective to hopeful parents and their children if results from this type of approach would in fact demonstrate subsidence of symptomology.

Research cited in 2007 by Jane Hersey, Director of the Feingold Assn., which promotes absence of additives in the diet, reveals the affects of diet on school behavior and performance. When 803 New York City public schools eliminated artificial colors, flavors and preservatives from their breakfast and lunch programs, academic performance markedly increased. Hersey stated that “Almost 75,000 children, who had been considered learning disabled or very low achievers were now able to perform at their age level, with the only difference being some dietary changes.” This demonstration of positive fluctuation in test scores for the California Achievement Test over a four-year period was greater than 15%, up to the 39th percentile from the 55th percentile.

Sadly, the proof really is ‘in the pudding,’ especially when the pudding is laced with combinations of artificial dyes and sweetening agents which appear to cause deleterious affects. It makes sense for everyone wanting to feel better, perform and function better physically and neurologically, to avoid ingesting chemical food additives. Period. End of story. This is particularly important for children with symptoms of ADHD, autism and other forms of biopsychological pathology- whether behavioral or developmental. In the search for etiology of these children’s conditions, a neon arrow is pointing to food chemicals which exacerbate the symptoms. When children and young ones are already suffering with neurologically inauspicious circumstances, the best protocol would be to exclude all chemical food additives.

A variety of diets have been recommended for children with autism, such as the Gluten Free Diet, the Body Ecology Diet, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and the Feingold Diet. Whereas each of these is effective in certain ways and to varying degrees, it is still the best idea- no matter which dietary approach is selected (if any) – to allow foods in the child’s diet that are pure, wholesome, preferably organic and rich in phytonutrients. Choose whole foods that are unprocessed and unpackaged. Choose foods that are naturally rich in the vitamins/minerals of the earth; natural, essential, necessary nutrition for who we are and what we are to become. Choose foods that are fit for children, not foods that are toxic. After all, these ARE our children.


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