Dementia and food additives – and other food intolerance symptoms in seniors

What the science shows - Alzheimers and dementia
Reader reports
Scientific references
Further information

Keywords: food intolerance, adults, elderly, seniors, aged care, meals on wheels, dementia, Alzheimers, blood-brain barrier, food additives, artificial colours, food colors 



The effects of food additives - and other food chemicals such as salicylates - on adults and the elderly are generally overlooked.  Yet it seems likely that a more permeable blood-brain barrier due to conditions such as Alzheimers would make patients more vulnerable to the effects of food colours and other additives  and that’s what our readers report.  Other health conditions associated with food intolerance in the elderly include incontinence, arthritis, gout, rash, irritability and forgetfulness.

What the science shows - Alzheimers and dementia

Scientists already know that Alzheimers patients suffer from a damaged blood-brain barrier, the gateway that normally protects the brain from potential toxins including food additives. But they didn’t know when the breakdown happened. A study published early in 2015 suggests that the blood-brain barrier breakdown happens early in the aging human brain and may contribute to cognitive impairment.

This has important implications for seniors who would like to maintain their cognitive abilities because it explains some of the stories our readers have sent about the beneficial effects of an additive-free, low salicylate diet on their relatives with dementia. It means that the same artificial colours, preservatives, flavour enhancers and salicylates that can cause inattention, forgetfulness and confusion in children may also affect seniors.

Children are vulnerable to the effects of food chemicals because effects are dose-related and due to their higher metabolism they eat and drink much more than adults per kilo of bodyweight. Now it seems that aging adults could be even more at risk than children, yet these food chemicals are frequently used in food given to seniors (e.g. bread preservative, various forms of MSG such as hydrolysed vegetable protein and 635 e.g. in gravy, sauces), as well as in toothpaste and in medications. The same diet that we recommend for other age groups may work equally as well for seniors, see

More details: See reader stories [1133]-[1136] and [835]  and scientific references below. 

For a quick look at what failsafe eating is like, see the free Failsafe Booklets

  Reader reports

[1136] I am a cook in an Aged Care facility (September 2012)

I am a cook in an Aged Care facility and I am trying to implement an additive and preservative free diet for the home.  After observing the effects of failsafe eating with my stepson who suffers from Oppositional Defiance Disorder I am a convert to the cause. - Chris

[1135] I am a geriatrician (September 2012)

I am a geriatrician and wondered if the effect of food additives has been studied on Alzheimers patients, due to a porous blood-brain barrier – from the 2012 roadshow

[1134] Not just about children (September 2012)

I've watched your fantastic DVD three times since receiving it. It has made me go back to the drawing board, I think I missed salicylates earlier. You might want to reconsider the title "Fed up with Children’s behaviour", it is not just about children I feel, and it is not just about behaviour either. It goes much further. Many people who are not concerned about children's behaviour could still benefit in a big way from the DVD.  - Peter,  Adelaide

[1133] Food additives and dementia in the elderly (September 2012)

My in-laws have recently moved in with us while waiting for a nursing home. We have been failsafe for years and I have noticed a trend, that whenever my mother in law eats artificial colours and flavours in something like a finger bun with pink icing, or the cheap and nasty cream biscuits, she becomes very oppositional ... more so than usual.

My father in law does not and won't accept the role food plays in our life, and he is the one who buys the rubbish. For our own sanity, we will just have to hide it, then throw it out. I can now understand what living with a child with ODD must be like. I am sure she would have loved to hit me the other day!!!!!!

Given that in nursing homes, a lot of the food has artificial colourings, (e.g. jelly and custard etc), I was wondering if any research has been done on the effect of food AFTER dementia has set in. There are plenty of websites that tell you how to AVOID dementia , but it is too late for that. 

So far we have noticed greater oppositional defiance after the ingestion of food that has additives e.g. Farmland Cream biscuits - the two occasions she had ONE, there was a reaction later that day. 

Yesterday I think there was also a reaction to salicylates (some tomato sauce she was given at lunch time). Her husband makes most decisions for her ... and I was at work. During the afternoon she tried to put her used control pants down the toilet, rather than in the nappy bucket ... but she was aware she had done something wrong ...  it was the first time she had done that. I will try and keep a food diary from now on, although I am not in control of what she eats while I am at work.

Ten days later: I kept a food diary and limited the types of food that my mother-in-law had over the previous week. Then at the weekend she had an iced donut (with artificial colours and probably other additives) on the Saturday and Sunday.  The upshot is that last week was TERRIBLE ... she was introspective, restless, agitated, didn't do what was asked ... and ultimately she had a fall. She is now very depressed. There is no way we will give her a donut again! Cheryl, by email

[835] Alzheimers, asthma and apnoea (July 2009)

I thought I would share with you briefly my experience of treating my wife who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. Apart from the Alzheimer's diagnosis, she suffered from asthma, sleep apnoea, was unable to speak more than one word at a time and was going down hill very fast. After a lot of research I decided to put her on to a 90% raw food diet and after one month, she started to speak the odd phrase. This was marvellous and only encouraged me to continue. However the amazing thing was after a few months her asthma symptoms began to disappear and she was able to reduce her dependence on puffers. After six months even the preventer puffer was reduced to almost zero and a year later in consultation with the doctor stopped using puffers altogether. Two and a half years later, she has been symptom free for two winters so confidently predict it has gone forever.  Oh by the way her sleep apnoea has gone as well. This experience of curing asthma with raw food is not unique as I have subsequently found out. When visiting your website I realised the raw food diet was eliminating additives. Commercial raw food has other problems i.e. pesticides, growth promoters etc  but the experience of using commercial raw food has been worthwhile.  Would like to eat organic but currently that's not possible. When visiting, we eat normal food and don't expect others to provide the food we use at home. - by email

[1132] Salicylates: Irritability due to daily aspirin in the elderly (September 2012)

Do salicylates have the same effect on adults as they do on children?  When my grandson eats salicylates in fruit he is irritable and has a vile temper. The doctor says my husband should take an aspirin every day for his heart but since he started he has become grumpy and forgetful.  We've been married for more than 50 years but the way he is now, I don't want to live with him any more. - Gail, NT (Yes, salicylates can have the same effect on adults. For salicylate sensitive seniors who need blood-thinning medication, clopidogrel  is a suitable alternative. For those wanting to try the RPAH elimination diet, discuss this with your doctor first , see p115 RPAH Elimination Diet Handbook – S)

[1068] Grandmothers night terrors, anxiety, paranoia, depression and brain fog helped by diet (July 2011) COURAGE AWARD        

My daughter bought the Fed Up book to help her son, my one year old grandson who was cranky, unable to sleep, hyperactive and constantly cleared his throat. After reading the book, I saw myself in the symptoms of night terrors, anxiety, depression and brain fogginess. So I joined him on the diet (we all live together) and I haven't had one night terror since. (Prior to this I was having at least 5 night terrors a week and hated going to bed.) I have had the occasional bad dream when eating off the diet, but nothing like they were. My anxiety lifted, the depression went away and for the first semester since returning to university I understood what they were saying, I participated in class and starting talking and laughing like a 'normal' person.

Before that I was constantly anxious, paranoid, stressed and felt 'stupid.' I thought people didn't like me, I wasn't good enough, and I was unmotivated to reach my goals.

My husband didn't believe in food affecting people, and was critical of our changes, however has seen remarkable changes in the baby and in me. He said to me recently 'what's the matter with you?' as I was sullen and quiet. I admitted I ate something off the diet (but I used to be like that most of the time). Now he cooks me failsafe meals at night and reads labels before buying foods.

I stay away from additives, salicylates, amines, glutamates and dairy. It can be difficult to eat a limited diet, but the world is so much more fun, it's worth it!

Thank you for writing the books and creating the DVD. It's given me back the opportunity to experience the wonderful life I have. - Monica

[339] 635: Meals on wheels disease (Sept 2004)

Six months ago, I was rushed off to hospital after waking in the middle of the night feeling edgy and hot with swelling of my face, heart palpitations and welts of hives all over my body. Afterwards, I questioned was it something I ate - the wine, the peanuts?

These awful experiences went on for a period of about four months until my brother saw a segment on A Current Affair about reactions to flavour enhancer 635 (also 627 and 631, ribonucleotides). I had missed the show but immediately got onto the website and as soon as I started reading I knew that was exactly what I had. This information is provided by Sue Dengate at  on the factsheet called "Ribo Rash" 

I read everything I purchase, I do not eat anything if I do not know exactly what is in it, and before I go to a function I speak with the chef or caterers. When dining I choose a meal and then request that the chef can assure me that there is no 635 added. I went through my pantry and discarded any foods with 635 in the ingredients and have not had a reaction of any kind for about two months which is a wonderful breakthrough for me, after experiencing reactions 3-4 times a week.

I request that you please take the time to read the Ribo Rash  information, as my parents are both experiencing similar reactions. My stepfather has a chronic rash and my mother gets hives at least one night a week. They receive "Meals on Wheels" and my stepfather says it is usually after rissoles, stew or soup. Therefore I request that you read the ingredients that you are adding for flavour to these meals. Purchased chickens from Woolworths have the additive in the stuffing, Coles marinated fresh chickens contain 635, Red Rooster have in on the outside, some chicken salt has it as well as some stocks, tinned and packet sauces and soups and it is even in some butter blends. Potato chips, CC's and other flavour enhanced foods are all to be avoided but there are plenty of substitutes, it just means being more vigilant as to what is served.

The elderly in aged care facilities and even patients in hospitals are experiencing these reactions due to flavour enhancer 635. There are plenty of natural herbs and spices that can be added to food for flavour instead of an additive which is causing a lot of suffering and possibly even death. - Queensland 

[338] 282: bread preservative and urinary incontinence

 * We gave up 282 preservatives in bread after reading your book ‘Fed up’ about two years ago – within a week my wife was free of urinary incontinence and over a period of about three months I was able to give up all asthma medications. – readers aged 60 and 56

[921] 282: Acne from bread preservative (June 2010)

Just looking over your website, you are missing one major side effect of 282 in adults - acne. I am a 50 yo adult and I always get a breakout if I eat a bread product containing 282, either because it was in fast food and not tagged (McDonalds use it, KFC and Hungry Jacks don't) or because the label did not show it. – Ric, NSW

  Scientific references

Courts NF. Salicylism in the elderly: "a little aspirin never hurt anybody"! : Your patients may think that aspirin is completely safe. Do you? Geriatr Nurs. 1996 ;17(2):55-9.   See PDF of paper

Montagne A et al, Blood-brain barrier breakdown in the aging human hippocampus. Neuron. 2015;85(2):296-302.

Sengillo J et al, Deficiency in mural vascular cells coincides with blood-brain barrier disruption in Alzheimer's disease.Brain Pathol. 2013;23(3):303-10.

Shah GN, Mooradian AD. Age-related changes in the blood-brain barrier. Exp Gerontol. 1997;32(4-5):501-19. 

  Further information 

Introduction to food intolerance

For a quick look at what failsafe eating is like, see the free Failsafe Booklet

Arthritis and gout factsheet

Fed Up by Sue Dengate, available in bookstores, libraries and through our website - there's currently special offer for a set of both books and the DVD. Fed Up is the best book to start with. 

The RPAH Elimination Diet Handbook with food and shopping guide-  an essential reference if you are following the diet in the long term. Available from libraries, your dietitian or

The information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians 

© Sue Dengate updated March 2015



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