Articles by Natural Health Author Barbara Minton

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‘Natural’ Food Additive Behind Behavior Problems in Children and IBS in Adults

by Barbara Minton
See all TBYIL articles by Barbara Minton

(The Best Years in Life) Using artificial colors to make food look more appealing has become taboo because of their links to behavior problems, allergies and various cancers. Instead food technologists are coming up with natural substances that can make food look just as appetizing and still be inline with the current interest in natural health. But just because something is natural doesn’t mean it can’t cause a bunch of problems in the human body. One example of this is annatto, a natural food coloring agent showing up in hundreds of products and linked to a host of health problems in children and adults.

Annatto, also known as E160b in Europe and other countries, comes from the seeds of the tropical achiote tree. Those seeds are a bright red-orange color, and they can be used to impart color across the spectrum from light cream color to bright red, with the most common being yellow. This makes annatto almost ubiquitous across the food supply. It is increasingly showing up in foods such as cheese, yogurt, butter, coffee creamers, snack foods, cereals, and plenty more. Many of the foods containing it are specifically marketed to children, such as gold fish crackers.

The Food Intolerance Network has received a huge number of complaints about annatto. These manifest in children primarily as behavior problems and irritability, while adults may display headache, bone pain, symptoms of arthritis, and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. In both adults and children, sleep disturbances, nightmares, inability to focus, restlessness and inattention are common.

Because children have a higher metabolic rate than adults, signs of annatto reaction in them can occur shortly after it is consumed. Reaction in adults tends to be delayed for a day or two, making it more difficult to identify annatto as the culprit.

There is no testing of food additives to determine safety, and the FDA appears to turn a blind eye to them. Food companies wanting to use an additive have only to say it is safe and viola, it is. All they have to do is declare it as having GRAS status (generally recognized as safe).

What studies have been done have documented that consuming annatto

  • Can produce many years of irritable bowel disease due to unrecognized sensitivity to it

  • Cause anaphylactic shock

  • Is one of the additives that generate reactions in one-third of those tested

  • Can produce chronic rash consisting of red welts on the skin that itch intensely

  • Can produce joint pain, fever, brain swelling, bruising and skin discoloration, visceral swelling, abdominal pain and swelling of the voice box

  • Lead to symptoms of asthma

  • Cause a reaction in 26 percent of challenge participants – a greater amount than was found with all artificial colors tested

  • Can produce extremely low blood pressure in less than 20 minutes after ingestion


Has a generation of children been labeled as special education material when their real problem is annatto?

Is it possible that the increased use of annatto in many foods eaten by children could be behind the exponential rise in the number of children meeting the criteria for special education services? The two are closely correlated in time.

Research into the effects of annatto in children is quite limited. Though scientific documentation is helpful, when there isn’t much of it we must rely on anecdotal evidence, the kind of evidence humans regularly relied upon before the scientific method took away their common sense. Here is an anecdotal record written by a woman about her young son that currently appears on the Food Intolerance Network’s website. There are many more similar stories there as well:

My son was restless from the day he was born. His pediatrician told me to not feed him dairy or wheat and suggested I feed him meat and vegetables and fruit for the first year of his life. When he was one, I decided to broaden his diet a bit and started feeding him vanilla ice cream. I didn't understand at the time, but he started throwing the most awful tantrums and head banging. He became obsessed with the color yellow. He only wanted to wear yellow clothes, draw with yellow pencils and chose toys that were yellow. My friends constantly commented on his yellow addiction. I used to feed him corn and cheese omelets for dinner with vanilla ice cream and banana for dessert. I'd mix the banana in thoroughly so the ice cream looked more yellow. It wasn't until 18 months later that I started learning about nasty food chemicals, and learned that annatto 160b natural yellow coloring was causing a lot of problems. When we got together with other mothers, he'd go straight for yellow food and always want yellow drinks. It was a bit of a joke really. He'd choose yellow lollypops over other colors and when I asked him what color he wanted his room painted, he of course said yellow. I stopped allowing him food with 160b in it, but still let him have it when he went out. My friends thought I was over the top with food.

One day after meeting with my friends, and my son eating their yellow food, he went off the rails. I managed to get him into the car, (which is hard when they stiffen their bodies like a board) and drove him to my friend's house. He was screaming in his car seat, Let me out, let me out and was struggling like crazy in his seat. We drove up her driveway and my friend said Oh my god, what's happened to Liam? I explained this is what happens when he eats bad food chemicals. It was only after this that she actually believed me. I then became strict and totally eliminated it from his diet. His head banging stopped and his outrageous tantrums stopped also. I then realized that his obsession with yellow was caused from an addiction to yellow food. When I eliminated it from his diet, he began to choose other colors to wear. He'd choose other colored lunchboxes, drink bottles and hats. I've never heard any other parent mention the color phenomenon, but I still believe it was connected to his addiction to 160b.”

If your child has been labeled as attention deficit hyperactivity disordered (ADHD), learning disabled, behavioral disordered, emotionally disturbed or a similar diagnosis, it is time to examine what he or she is consuming.

See also:

What You Need to Know about the Dirty Dozen Food Additives

Tired of Intestinal Uproar? Blame These Food Additives

80% of the Packaged Food Items on Our Grocers Shelves Contain Ingredients Banned in Other Countries

For more information:

About the Author:

Barbara is a school psychologist and the author of Dividend Capture, a book on personal finance. She is a breast cancer survivor using bioidentical hormone therapy, and a passionate advocate of natural health with hundreds of articles on many aspects of health and wellness. She is the editor and publisher of AlignLife's Health Secrets Newsletter.

See other articles by the Barbara Minton here:

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