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Adverse Reactions to Food Additives

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There are thousands of agents that are intentionally added to the food that we consume. These include preservatives, stabilizers, conditioners, thickeners, colorings, flavorings, sweeteners, antioxidants, etc, etc. Yet only a surprisingly small number have been associated with hypersensitivity reactions.

Amongst all the additives, FD&C dyes have been most frequently associated with adverse reactions. Tartrazine is the most notorious of them all; however, critical review of the medical literature and current Scripps Clinic studies would indicate that tartrazine has been confirmed to be at best only occasionally associated with flares of urticaria or asthma. There is no convincing evidence in the literature of reactivity to the other azo or nonazo dyes. This can also be said of BHA/BHT, nitrites/nitrates and sorbates.

Parabens have been shown to elicit IgE mediated hypersensitivity reactions when used as pharmaceutical preservatives; however, as with the other additives noted above, ingested parabens have only occasionally been associated with adverse reactions.

MSG, the cause of the 'Chinese restaurant syndrome' has only been linked to asthma in one report.

Sulfiting agents used primarily as food fresheners and to control microbial growth in fermented beverages have been established as the cause of any where from mild to severe and even fatal reactions in at least 5% of the asthmatic population. Other reactions reported to follow sulfite ingestion include anaphylaxis, gastro intestional complaints and dermatological eruptions. The prevalence of these non asthmatic reactions is unknown. The mechanism of sulfite sensitive asthma is also unknown but most likely involves hyperreactivity to inhale SO2 in the great majority of cases; however, there are reports of IgE mediated reactions and other sulfite sensitive asthmatics have been found with low levels of sulfite oxidase; necessary to oxidize endogenous sulfite to sulfate.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 1986

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  • Allergy and Asthma Proceedings is a peer reviewed publication dedicated to distributing timely scientific research regarding advancements in the knowledge and practice of allergy, asthma and immunology. Its primary readership consists of allergists and pulmonologists.

    The goal of the Proceedings is to publish articles with a predominantly clinical focus which directly impact quality of care for patients with allergic disease and asthma and by having the potential to directly impact the quality of patient care. AAP welcomes the submission of original works including peer-reviewed original research and clinical trial results. Additionally, as the official journal of the Eastern Allergy Conference (EAC), AAP will publish content from EAC poster sessions as well as review articles derived from EAC lectures.

    Featured topics include asthma, rhinitis, sinusitis, food allergies, allergic skin diseases, diagnostic techniques, allergens, and treatment modalities. Published material includes peer-reviewed original research, clinical trials and review articles.

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    The journal is indexed in Thomson Reuters Web of Science and Science Citation Index Expanded, plus the National Library of Medicine's PubMed service.
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