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Food Additives – Are They Harming Your Child’s Brain?

As September begins and we as parents rush around in the blur of back to school, it is important to think about ways we can set our kids up for success for the coming school year.

Making sure that our kids receive proper nutrition is crucial to their health but also their learning and academic abilities. Poor nutrition and poor grades are often correlated. In addition, I have blogged previously that issues like undiagnosed food allergies can be a real obstacle for kids as these reactions release chemicals like histamine and block proper reactions of brain chemicals called “neurotransmitters”.

Food Additives – Allergies

Another area of allergies I have seen grow over the past number of years, is allergies in the food additive category.  Food additives are additional chemicals added to foods such as preservatives, colourings, flavourings and dyes. The packaged food industry continues to grow- and with it, the list of chemicals on the side of the package.  This is especially true of packaged foods for kids which take advantage of bright (almost glowing) colours to attract kids to eat or drink these products.

The Food You Feed Your Kids Should Pass These Two Tests

food additives - do they effect your brain?

I have spoken to many parents over the years and said that food should pass 2 tests – the “grandmother” test and the “chemistry” test.

The Grandmother Test

The grandmother test is would your grandmother recognize what your child is eating? If the answer is no, it is probably a poor nutrition choice.

The Chemistry Test

The second test is the chemistry test: if you look on the side of the package and need a PhD in chemistry to understand the ingredients list, it is also likely a poor nutrition choice.

The Effects of Food Additives on the Brain

Many of these chemicals have been shown to be both neuro-excitatory (excite the brain) and neuro-toxic (damaging to the brain).  A US doctor named Benjamin Feingold created a program (www.feingold.org) to assist AD/HD children whereby he selectively removed food additives from these children’s diets and saw profound improvements in their health and well-being.

In as early as 1985, the AAP – American Academy of Pediatrics knew these chemicals were potentially dangerous.

Here is a list of some dyes and their potential health effects:

  • Blue 1 (Brilliant blue) – bronchoconstriction, allergy, chromosome damage, damage to mitochondria and sperm.
  • Red 40 (Allura Red) – lower brain weight and reproduction rates in animals, damage to mitochondria and DNA.
  • Yellow 5 (Tartrazine) – asthma, hives, eczema, allergy, DNA damage, mitochondria damage, changes to mood and sleep, overactive/aggressive behavior.
  • Yellow 6 (Sunset yellow) – hives, eczema, rhinitis, asthma, allergy, bruising, sperm damage, liver damage, increased aggression/overactivity, DNA and mitochondria damage, elevated triglycerides.

This list of potential health effects looks quite scary.  I think the take home message is the less food additives in our diets and in the diets of our children – the better.

Food Additives – Allergy Testing

We at Marine Drive Naturopathic are able to go one step further in that we now are offering an allergy test to assess reactivity to 30 common food additives, colorings and environmental chemicals (www.cellsciencesystems.com).

MSG and Artificial Sweeteners

The test contains the dyes listed above as well as items such as MSG, aspartame and sucralose (read Splenda) to name a few. These items are in everything from soup to toothpaste to chewing gum and may be affecting your child adversely without your knowledge.

This test requires a blood draw and results return from the laboratory in approximately 2 weeks.

Does your child eat a lot of packaged food or junk food?  Do you notice changes in behaviour or energy after they have consumed a “slurpee” or other packaged food or drink?  Perhaps reactions to food additives are part of the problem. We at MDNC can help you get to the bottom of your child’s challenge and work with you to set them up for a successful school year ahead.

Contact the clinic for more information.

In health,

Dr. Cameron McIntyre, ND