Those who work with hyperactive children have long claimed that their behavioural disorders can be triggered and made worse by certain non-nutritional food additives - specifically, azo-dye colours, artificial sweeteners, some preservatives and some flavour enhancers, such as MSG.
The use of single additives is not thought, by researchers, to affect the development of the nerve cells in the brain. However, research at University of Liverpool, led by Professor Vyvyan Howard, now
suggests that combining the additives can have a synergistic effect.
In the laboratory they examined the effect on nerve cells of two combinations - E133, brilliant blue (found in some soft drinks, confectionary, desserts and ices) with E261, monosodium glutamate/MSG (found in many crisps and ready meals), and E104, quinoline yellow (found in some smoked haddock and confectionary) with E951, aspartame (found in some diet drinks, confectionery, desserts and medicines).
In both cases, when the nerve cells were exposed to the combination of additives, the additives appeared to impair the cells’ growth and interfere with their ability to signal to each other (essential for proper brain function).
This suggested that both combinations of additives were up to four times more harmful when they were combined than the sum of their individual compounds would have suggested might be the case.
The additives were combined in concentrations that, theoretically, reflect the amount of the additives that would enter the bloodstream of a child eating a typical snack or drink.
The Soil Association and Organix Brands, who supported the study, have called for these additives to be removed immediately from food.
First published in June 2006
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