April 24, 2008

7 Min Read
Science Beat

Can Food Additives Cause Problem Behavior in Children?
Eating foods with artificial colors and preservatives can cause negative behavior changes in children, according to a recent study published in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood. Some doctors, parents and others have long believed that artificial food additives play a role in behavior disorders such as attention deficit?hyperactivity disorder. Several studies have found that food additives such as artificial colors, flavors and preservatives can contribute to the symptoms of ADHD, but other studies have not found a link. Atopy—the name given to a group of chronic allergic conditions, such as asthma and eczema—has been found in some studies to be more common in children with behavior problems than among children without behavior problems. This has led to speculation that allergies, perhaps to foods and food additives, could trigger the symptoms of ADHD.

The current study involved 277 3-year-olds who were categorized as: hyperactive with atopy; hyperactive without atopy; not hyperactive with atopy; and not hyperactive and without atopy. The children were placed on an additive-free diet for the first week. During the second week, they were randomly assigned to supplement their additive-free diet with either a fruit drink containing multiple artificial colors and the preservative sodium benzoate, or a fruit drink containing no additives, to be consumed daily for one week. The test was then repeated with the additive and additive-free groups reversed. Parents monitored their children?s behavior daily, using scales to rate inattention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity. Evaluations were also done in a clinic at the end of each week.

Clinic testing showed no significant behavioral changes in any of the children over the course of the study. Parental ratings of behavior, however, showed a definite effect of the food additives. There was a significant reduction in hyperactive behavior during the week the additive-free diet was consumed, and a significantly greater increase in hyperactive behavior with the drink containing additives than with the additive-free drink. These changes noted by parents were similar in all groups, regardless of their hyperactivity and atopy status at the beginning of the study. The results of this study support the belief that artificial food additives can contribute to behavior problems in preschool children. Also, these behavior changes can be observed equally in children identified as having ADHD and children without behavior disorders. Atopy does not appear to predict reactions to food additives.

It is noteworthy that significant behavior changes were not found in the controlled clinical setting but rather by the parents during normal daily activities, suggesting that future studies should also consider the observations of family members. The effect of food additives on behaviors in older children and adults, with and without ADHD, should be evaluated in future studies.

Vitamin A May Repair Sun Damage
Vitamin A repairs skin damage caused by the sun, according to a study in Clinical Cancer Research.

Sun exposure is both positive and negative. Without enough sunlight, the body cannot produce adequate amounts of vitamin D, which is essential for proper absorption of calcium. And sunlight deficiency in the winter is linked with seasonal depression. Too much sun, however, increases skin cancer risk.

Vitamin A, an antioxidant found in foods such as eggs and fish, has been shown in many studies to prevent and reverse cancerous changes in cells in some parts of the body, including the skin. One study found that people taking 25,000 IU of vitamin A per day for up to five years had a 32 percent reduction in risk of developing a common form of skin cancer.

In the current study, 129 people with severe sun damage on their forearms were randomly assigned to receive 25,000 IU, 50,000 IU or 75,000 IU of vitamin A per day or placebo for one year. Biopsies of the forearm skin were done at the beginning and end of the study. Only 25 percent of people taking placebo had less skin damage at the end of the study than at the beginning; by contrast, 65 percent of those receiving 25,000 IU, 81 percent of those taking 50,000 IU and 79 percent of those taking 75,000 IU of vitamin A per day had less damaged skin after one year.

The results add to the evidence that long-term use of vitamin A can repair skin damage from sun exposure and specifically suggest that 50,000 IU per day is enough to provide maximum protection. Furthermore, up to 75,000 IU of vitamin A per day appeared to be safe for at least one year. These findings are especially important given the rising incidence of skin cancer.

Although vitamin A did not cause any toxic effects in this study, long-term use of large doses can cause side effects such as hair loss, dry skin, nausea and liver damage. Older people and heavy alcohol drinkers are at increased risk of side effects. So people interested in taking vitamin A in the amounts reported in this study should be monitored by a doctor. Also, pregnant women should not take more than 10,000 IU of vitamin A per day without the supervision of a doctor.

While the body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, the extent of that conversion is limited. So taking large amounts of beta-carotene would not have the same benefits as taking vitamin A.

Eucalyptus Oil Relieves Sinusitis
A major ingredient of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) oil relieves inflammation of the sinuses, according to a study published in Laryngoscope.

Sinusitis is a common upper respiratory condition marked by swelling and overproduction of mucus in one or more sinuses. It can be caused by allergy, or bacterial or viral infection, and treatment typically includes antihistamines, decongestants and antibiotics. Though frequently prescribed, antibiotics are not effective against viral sinusitis.

Eucalyptus has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and decongesting properties, and has been used traditionally to treat asthma, nasal congestion, runny nose, cough, sore throat and sinusitis. The oil from eucalyptus is antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral, and has been used topically to treat skin and dental infections and to prevent cavities. Medicinal herbs containing what are known as ?volatile? oils have strong and distinctive aromas; these herbs and their oils are generally antiseptic, relaxing to muscles and nerves and decongesting. Cineole, also known as eucalyptol, is the major component of the volatile oil extracted from eucalyptus. One previous controlled trial found that cineole effectively reduced inflammation and mucus production in people with severe asthma.

The current study randomly assigned 152 people with acute nonbacterial sinusitis to receive either capsules of cineole taken by mouth (200 mg three times per day) or placebo for seven days. The severity of symptoms such as headache and nasal blockage, and the amount and quality of nasal mucus, were assessed at the beginning of the study and after four and seven days of treatment. Ultrasound evaluation of the sinuses was also performed at the beginning and end of the study. People receiving cineole showed significantly greater improvement in symptoms than those in the placebo group on both the four- and seven-day evaluations. At the end of the study, 92 percent of those treated with cineole had experienced improvement in more than half of their sinusitis symptoms; by contrast, only 45 percent of those receiving placebo had improved in more than half of the symptoms. Furthermore, ultrasound exams showed no swelling or fluid in the sinuses of 95 percent of the cineole group at the end of the study, compared with only 51 percent of the placebo group.

The results of this study show that cineole can relieve the symptoms of acute nonbacterial sinusitis more effectively than placebo. The use of cineole to treat sinusitis might reduce the need for antibiotics, thereby helping to prevent antibiotic-related side effects and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Because cineole, like other volatile oil components, can be irritating to the stomach lining, people with a history of gastritis or peptic ulcer disease should use it with caution.

Maureen Williams, N.D., has a private practice in Quechee, Vt. Copyright ? 2004 Healthnotes Inc.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 9/p. 58-59

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