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Eliminate the Food Additives to Manage Asthma
Meg Jordan, PhD., RN, CWP -- Global Medicine Hunter (R) Meg Jordan, PhD., RN, CWP -- Global Medicine Hunter (R)
San Mateo, CA
Wednesday, May 1, 2013

 What triggers constriction of the airways? Parents are surprised to find that preservatives, additives and food dyes are a major culprit.


Dr. Meg Jordan

415 599-5523


Whenever a child has an asthma attack and is rushed to the emergency room, parents are desperate to discover what triggered it and how to avoid another occurrence.

They may be surprised to learn that there is a strong link to certain additives in foods marketed to kids. Most are aware that pet dander, mold spores and tobacco smoke can trigger an asthma attack, but those bright pink and blue cereal bits in their breakfast bowl are likely to blame.

"Most parents don't realize that several widely used preservatives and synthetic food dyes have been shown to trigger constriction of the airways and other asthmatic symptoms in sensitive children," said Jane Hersey, National Director of the nonprofit Feingold Association (www.feingold.org), which helps families use a low-additive diet developed by allergist Dr. Ben Feingold.

Furthermore, it is becoming clear that these additives are playing a role in the dramatic rise of childhood asthma that is being observed worldwide. A 2012 study published in The International Archives of Allergy and Immunology concluded that the increased consumption of synthetic additives, particularly food dyes and preservatives, may have contributed to this rise.

A massive new study published in Thorax, involving nearly 2 million children and teens from more than 100 countries, also found a correlation between consumption of an additive-laden fast food diet and increased levels of asthma, eczema and hay fever.

In the United States, where asthma was relatively uncommon in the 1950s, it now affects about 1 in 10 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"The typical child's diet has changed enormously over the last few decades and is very different from what children ate 50 years ago," said Hersey, a former teacher and Head Start consultant.

"A meal then did not consist of a bowl of multicolored cereal for breakfast, chicken nuggets loaded with synthetic chemicals and fillers for lunch, or a dinner of macaroni and cheese so brightly dyed that it almost glows in the dark. What's more, snacks are often now so full of preservatives that they can be as old as your kids and still look fresh!"

The connection between synthetic food additives and asthma is not a new one. In the 1980's, the Food and Drug Administration required that the common food dye Yellow 5 be listed on ingredient labels, due in part to the danger this dye poses to asthmatics. In addition, a 2004 study published in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology found that the preservative sodium benzoate can trigger asthmatic symptoms, and a 2007 study published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology concluded that the common preservative butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) may worsen them.

Ironically, the role that some preservatives play in triggering asthma was discovered when some asthmatic children experienced an immediate worsening of their symptoms after they inhaled their anti-asthma medications. It was found that the sulfite and sodium benzoate preservatives in these drugs were actually exacerbating the children's asthma, and when the additives were removed from the medications, the symptoms disappeared.

How can parents determine if synthetic food additives may be triggering asthmatic symptoms in their children?

If they experience shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing or other asthma-like symptoms after eating artificially preserved or colored foods, they might be sensitive to the additives. If this is the case, try replacing the suspect foods with more natural versions that do not contain the additives and see if the symptoms reoccur. Parents can be helped with this by the Feingold Association's Foodlist and Shopping Guide, which lists thousands of low-additive versions of brand-name foods.

According to Hersey, it is especially important to replace additive-filled foods with healthier ones for children who have already been diagnosed with asthma, because these additives may be worsening their symptoms.

Many researchers now believe that the prolonged consumption of a highly processed, additive-laden diet is taking its toll on the health of children, not only because of these chemicals' association with asthma, but also because of their well known link to hyperactivity, cancer and other problems. Hersey agrees. "Eliminating foods containing these harmful additives may not only help with a child's asthma but could also make a significant difference in their overall health."

The Feingold Association

The nonprofit Feingold Association (www.feingold.org / 800-321-3287) helps families implement the low-additive Feingold Diet, which was developed by the late Dr. Ben Feingold, a pediatrician who was Chief of Allergy at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco. The charity conducts in-depth research with food companies and provides information about which foods are free of harmful additives. Its advisory board and board of directors include medical professionals from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Rochester, Stony Brook University, Baltimore's Sinai Hospital, and other institutions.

Individual dietary needs vary and no one diet will meet everyone's daily requirements. Before starting any new diet, check with your doctor or nutritionist.


Zaknun D. et al. Potential role of antioxidant food supplements, preservatives and colorants in the pathogenesis of allergy and asthma. International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, 2012, Vol. 157(2), pages 113-124. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21986480)

Ellwood P. et al. Do fast foods cause asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema? Global findings from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) Phase Three. Thorax, 2013, Vol. 68(4), pages 351-360. http://www.ncbi.nlm.gov/pubmed/23319429)

Asthma in the U.S., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vital Signs, May 2011.

Balatsinou L. et al. Asthma worsened by benzoate contained in some antiasthmatic drugs. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, 2004, Vol. 17(2), pages 225-226. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15171824)

Yamaki K. et al. Enhancement of allergic responses in vivo and in vitro by butylated hydroxytoluene. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 2007, Vol. 223(2), pages 164-172. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17604070)

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Name: Meg Jordan, PhD., RN, NBC-HWC
Group: Global Health Media
Dateline: Novato, CA United States
Direct Phone: 415 599-5523
Main Phone: 14155995523
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