Additives, Foods, Moods and Behaviour

Article by: Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, editor of Foods Matter magazine

How often have you stood in the supermarket queue behind a harassed mother dragging a defiant, tousled looking child? As a parent you shudder as the child, usually a boy, thrashes around, whining and shouting, grabbing everything out of the trolley and from the racks of sweets beside the checkout. Even worse, has such a child arrived in your playgroup? Because of your training you may not immediately pass the judgment of the others in the supermarket queue, 'what that child needs is a bit of discipline'. But does a question about the parenting the child has received not pass through your mind?

The Life of a Hyperactive Child
Sally Bunday says that she lost count of the number of times that she overheard 'spoilt brat', 'what he needs is a good hiding', or ' if he were mine he certainly would not behave like that' about her son. This was a boy who only slept for three hours a night, could not concentrate for more than a couple of minutes, was irritable, highly strung, disruptive, clumsy and who suffered from constant catarrh, abnormal thirst, headaches, hearing difficulties and constant stomach upsets. Yet, within four days of starting the Feingold Diet which excluded all synthetic additives and all foods containing salicylates - he was sleeping through the night, happy and calm and his abnormal thirst and catarrh had vanished.

Sally was so amazed by these results that she went on to found the Hyperactive Children's' Support Group and over the last 30 years has helped thousands of families with problems similar to her own. Without help the prospects for a hyperactive toddler are not good. Once at school they are always in trouble, make no friends, fail to learn; if disruptive enough they may be excluded and then be bounced from school to school. If the parents can no longer cope they may even be taken into care. In either case they have a high chance of becoming a young offender, abusing both alcohol and drugs and spending the rest of their lives in and out of prison. Although a proportion of children do 'grow out' of hyperactivity as their bodies mature and become more able to cope with what could be called the toxic assault presented by chemical additives, a greater number do not.

What is happening to a hyperactive child's system?
The earliest work was done in the USA by Dr Ben Feingold who discovered that a group of children appeared to react to chemical additives and to salicylates in their diets. Salicylates are an aspirin-like substance found in many fruits, a few vegetables, coffee and tea. Over the last 50 years research has shown that these children nearly always come from atopic families, those prone to allergic type reactions such as eczema, asthma. More recently it has been realised that that far from being a 'stand alone' condition, hyperactivity, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is closely linked to dyslexia, dyspraxia, Autistic Spectrum Disorders and even to manic depression, schizophrenia, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME).

It would appear that in all these conditions biochemical pathways are disrupted so that, effectively, corrupted messages are reaching the brain. For this disruption to occur you need a genetic predisposition (i.e. coming from an atopic family) combined with an 'environmental assault'. This environmental assault could be a virus, as in some cases of ME. It could be exposure to a particularly high level of a toxin, such as pesticides, or to an inappropriate vaccination. But the assault can also come from foods, both natural and artificial, which that individual's system cannot metabolise properly.

Chemicals in Food.
Evidence is rapidly accumulating (even the Foods Standards Agency has now accepted it) that there are a number of food additives which not only affect hyperactive children but also can affect 'normal' children as well; E102 (tartrazine yellow) for example. If you have ever wondered why your usually well behaved, normal child has suddenly turned into a monster, just check to see whether he or she has been sucking one of those luridly yellow ice lollies and what was in it!

In fact most chemical colourings are problematic but especially those made from azo dyes and coal tar. These include E102, 104, 107, 110, 120, 22, 123, 124 127, 128, 132, 133, 150, 151, 152, 155. Not only are these dyes used in a wide range of confectionery and snack foods but they are also used in medicines and toothpaste. Chemical flavourings (anything which does not state on the label that it is 'natural') and flavour enhancers such as MSG (E621), chemical preservatives (sodium benzoate & benzoic acid, nitrites and nitrates) and artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, isomalt, acesulfame, maltitol, lactitol, Xylitol and cyclamates) may all also cause problems. So, incidentally, can perfumes. In recent research over 60% of hyperactive children reacted to perfume.

Salicylates, Gluten and Casein
But the story does not end with chemical additives. Just as the salicylates in fruits can affect some children so can a whole range of other quite natural ingredients. The autistic children who react to gluten and casein are the most dramatic illustration. What appears to happen is that the gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley) and casein (a milk protein) they eat is not properly metabolised, the 'peptide breakdown is not complete, so that the gluten and casein peptides turn into gluteomorphine and caseomorphine. These peptides pass through the gut wall into the blood stream and from where they deliver morphine peptides directly to the brain. Indeed the behaviour of many autistic children is very similar to that of a drug addict a zombie-like, disconnected state when 'high' on their drug alternating with a frenzied, head banging, totally uncontrollable 'cold turkey' state when they are waiting for their next fix. When both gluten and casein are withdrawn from these children's' diets their behaviour may change dramatically and revert, effectively, to 'normal'.

A substantial number of hyperactive children who react to chemicals may also react, although not quite so dramatically, to other foods, most often to gluten and casein but also to citrus, soya, eggs and corn; even to sugar.

Sugar, apart from having a disastrous effect on children's' teeth, distorting their natural palates and providing them with a load of empty calories, can have a much more insidious effect on their behaviour.

Many of those children who are atopic or have other health problems, may have leaky guts (gut walls through which unwanted food proteins may reach the blood stream) and/or unbalanced gut flora. This is especially likely if they have spent long periods on antibiotics which have destroyed not only the 'bad' bacteria but the surrounding population of 'good' bacteria. If so there is a strong possibility of gut fermentation and yeast overgrowth, for both of which sugar is the perfect food. Result, digestive and a range of allergy problems.

But too much sugar does not only affect the gut. There is a growing understanding of the link between glucose and the brain chemicals serotonin and beta endorphins, both of which are critical to mood and self esteem. The normal pathways of both can be disrupted in sensitive people by an excess of sugar or refined carbohydrates which convert very quickly into glucose in the body. The result can be violent mood swings, lack of self confidence and self esteem, and all the multiple problems which stem there from.

The Benefits of Changing the Diet
Although removing all these substances from a child's diet, especially if that child is 'addicted' to them, will guarantee several weeks of complete hell for the whole family, the long term results are absolutely worth the suffering. Not only will a whole range of damaging substances be removed from their diet, but by removing them you will also remove the majority of fatty and sugary snack foods, confectionery and fizzy drinks which are also leading to obesity and micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) malnutrition.

What is more, the child will be infinitely happier. Because of the distress and disruption that a hyperactive child causes to the rest of the family, it is sometimes forgotten that such children are themselves profoundly unhappy, frustrated and confused by their own behaviour. Returning them to 'normality' is the greatest gift that you can give them.

The Hyperactive Childrens' Support Group provide invaluable support for the families of hyperactive children

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, the mother of a dairy allergic teenager, founded and edits Foods Matter, a monthly subscription magazine supporting anyone on a restricted diet with recipes, product information, specialist articles and research, a children's' club and an 'allergy agony aunt'. For more information call 020 7722 2866 or check out

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