July 31, 2018

These common food additives pose a potential danger to children

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A new study suggests that these unregulated food additives could harm children.

The University of Washington is asking the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review roughly 1,000 food additives that are used under a “Generally Recognized as Safe.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics also said that reforms are necessary to the U.S. food regulatory process due to the increasing evidence that chemicals in food colorings, preservatives, and packaging can affect with children's growth and development.

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"The current regulatory process does not adequately protect children's health from these chemicals," said Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a UW Medicine pediatrician and environmental scientist at the University of Washington (UW) School of Public Health.

"Bisphenol A and phthalates are known endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and we've learned that early life exposures can affect later-life health outcomes."

Sathyanarayana, Rachel Shaffer, a UW Ph.D. student in environmental toxicology, and Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a New York University expert on children's environmental health, co-authored a report about the additives of most concern.

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Below are some additives to watch out for, based on rising research evidence cited in the report.

• Artificial food colors: Are popular in children’s food products and may be associated with worsened attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. According to the report, children who cut out synthetic food colorings from their diets had reduced ADHD symptoms.

• Bisphenols (BPA): Are used to harden plastic containers and line metal cans. They can act like estrogen in the body and may change the timing of puberty, slow fertility, increase body fat, and affect the nervous and immune systems.

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• Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs): Are used in grease-proof paper and cardboard food packaging. These chemicals may decrease immunity, birth weight, and fertility. They may also affect the thyroid system, metabolism, digestion, muscle control, brain development and bone strength.

• Nitrates/nitrites: Are used to preserve food and enhance color, particularly in cured and processed meats. These chemicals can interfere with thyroid hormone production and hinder blood from moving oxygen in the body. These additives also have been linked with gastrointestinal and nervous system cancers.

• Perchlorate: Are added to some dry food packaging to help control static electricity. These food additives are known to disrupt thyroid function, early life brain development, and growth.

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• Phthalates: Are found in plastic and vinyl tubes to make them flexible, and may also affect male genital development, increase childhood obesity, and contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Sathyanarayana said: "The FDA is in a tough position."

"They have authority to collect data on current chemicals that have been grandfathered in [for approved use] but they do not have authority to collect additional data on those chemicals that have the determination of 'generally recognized as safe.'”

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