Food Additives and Mental Health

Food Additives and Mental Health

written by: Dr. Randi Fredricks
by: Dr. Randi Fredricks
Healing Healing

There have been a growing number of food additives implicated in the onset of a number of mental health problems. In the United States, the FDA allows more than 3,000 substances to be added to foods for the purpose of preservation, coloring, texture, and increasing flavor. If you have to eat processed foods, read labels carefully and try to stay away from the following additives.

Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)

This artificial sweetener is in Equal and NutraSweet, along with products that contain them, such as diet sodas and other low-calorie and diet foods. Evidence implicating aspartame includes early animal studies revealing an exceedingly high incidence of brain tumors in aspartame-fed rats compared to no brain tumors in concurrent controls and a recent finding that the aspartame molecule has mutagenic potential, meaning it is capable of causing mutations.

Research has associated aspartame with a number of psychiatric disorders including panic attacks, depression, and bipolar disorder. It has also been found to aggravate memory problems.


Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are used to keep fats and oils from going rancid. These additives are commonly in cereals, chewing gum, vegetable oil, potato chips, and to preserve freshness.

In studies BHT has caused various disorders in animals such as cancer, reduced body weight, increased blood cholesterol levels, and it has been linked to birth defects in rats. BHA has been banned in Japan because studies there found it caused cancerous tumors in rats' fore-stomachs and in hamsters. Some European countries highly restrict the use of BHA and BHT, because of potential safety reasons. A number of people have reported that symptoms of anxiety and depression subsided with the discontinuation of both BHA and BHT.

Food Coloring

The United States permits seven artificial food colorings in the food supply. Some studies point to artificial coloring agents aggravating ADHD symptoms. Research shows academic performance increased and disciplinary problems decreased in student populations with attention disorders when artificial ingredients, including artificial colors were eliminated from school food programs.

Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil

The process used to make hydrogenated vegetable oil (or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil) creates trans fats, which promote heart disease, diabetes, and depression. The Institute of Medicine has advised that consumers should eat as little trans fat as possible. To do this, one must avoid anything with hydrogenated vegetable oil on the label, including things like margarine, vegetable shortening, crackers, cookies, baked goods, and salad dressings.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

MSG is used as a flavor enhancer in many packaged foods, including soups, salad dressings, sausages, hot dogs, canned tuna, and potato chips. According to Russell L. Blaylock, a neurosurgeon, there is a link between neurodegeneration and excitotoxic damage caused by food additives like MSG and artificial sweeteners. According to Blaylock, excitotoxins are excitatory agents that can cause sensitive neurons to die. This has led Blaylock and other to link MSG to Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Sodium Nitrite (Sodium Nitrate)

Sodium nitrite (or sodium nitrate) is used as a preservative, coloring and flavoring in bacon, ham, hot dogs, luncheon meats, corned beef, smoked fish and other processed and cured meats. These additives can lead to the formation of cancer-causing chemicals called nitrosamines. Some studies have linked consuming cured meats and nitrites with cancer as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Other experts have claimed to find a link between sodium nitrate and memory loss, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

If something you commonly eat uses these additives, look for a different variety, as not all manufacturers use these food additives. Additionally, the great majority of certified organic food does not contain these items.