Science of the effects of food on health, behaviour and learning

This online Journal will seek to provide an outlet for interesting science that is not otherwise being published in this field.

In time we intend to develop an Advisory Board and establish a panel of peer reviewers but rather than wait until the Food Intolerance Network has the resources for this task we have decided to start this Journal and support publication of work that otherwise has difficulty finding a home.

We welcome comments on the papers published and will append them to the papers if the comments are constructive. Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Current papers

Contribution of food additives to worldwide variations in the prevalence of childhood asthma symptoms. Dengate S, Dengate H (2004). J Food Intolerance No 1.

Abstract: Food additive consumption can explain the increase in asthma symptoms associated with the Western lifestyle; international variations in childhood asthma prevalence including high rates in English-speaking and Spanish-speaking South American  and lower rates in European and developing countries; higher asthma rates in preschoolers; and a decline in childhood asthma in some countries.

How many children are affected by food additives? - a pilot trial. Dengate H, Dengate S, Watt M (2008). J Food Intolerance No 2.

Abstract: OBJECTIVE: To determine the proportion of children affected behaviourally or physically by 56 common food additives. METHOD: Behaviour and health were rated for 49 children who avoided food additives for two weeks and for 46 children who continued with their normal diet. RESULTS: Rating 14 behavioural symptoms, teachers reported that 69% of all children improved at the end of two weeks; parents reported that 53% improved. For children able to show improvement, teachers reported that 89% improved; parents reported that 59% improved. Parents observed that at least 25% of all children improved in sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, rashes or bedwetting by avoiding food additives for two weeks in a normal school setting. CONCLUSION: More than half of school age children may be affected by common food additives.  IMPLICATIONS: The appropriate educational and public health response would be to reduce the use of food additives that contribute to behavioural and physical disorders.

Dietary Management of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: a review. Dengate S (2017). J Food Intolerance No 3.

Abstract: The effects of diet on ADHD behaviours is reviewed. Early studies failed to eliminate sufficient problem-causing foods, to recognise the validity of parental observations, to rate adequately some of the most common symptoms such as irritability and sleep disturbance rather than hyperactivity; and focused on the effects of sugar, which has been shown not to cause behaviour changes. More recent studies show that additive-free diets alone are of little benefit and broader dietary intervention is required. The mechanism for behavioural reactions to foods is food intolerance, not allergy. A low-chemical elimination diet followed by challenges can assist in identifying provoking food chemicals. Dietary management can be part of multimodal treatment of ADHD. Parents who wish to pursue dietary management should be assisted in their efforts and referred to a dietitian.

Recent papers published elsewhere that may be of interest to scientists in this field

This article is intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the role of dietary methods for treatment of children with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when pharmacotherapy has proven unsatisfactory or unacceptable. Results of recent research and controlled studies, based on a PubMed search, are emphasized and compared with earlier reports. The recent increase of interest in this form of therapy for ADHD, and especially in the use of omega supplements, significance of iron deficiency, and the avoidance of the "Western pattern" diet, make the discussion timely.

Diets to reduce symptoms associated with ADHD include sugar-restricted, additive/preservative-free, oligoantigenic/elimination, and fatty acid supplements. Omega23 supplement is the latest dietary treatment with positive reports of efficacy, and interest in the additive-free diet of the 1970s is occasionally revived. A provocative report draws attention to the ADHD-associated "Western-style" diet, high in fat and refined sugars, and the ADHD-free "healthy" diet, containing fiber, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The literature on diets and ADHD, listed by PubMed, is reviewed with emphasis on recent controlled studies. Recommendations for the use of diets are based on current opinion of published reports and our practice experience. Indications for dietary therapy include medication failure, parental or patient preference, iron deficiency, and, when appropriate, change from an ADHD-linked Western diet to an ADHD-free healthy diet. Foods associated with ADHD to be avoided and those not linked with ADHD and preferred are listed.

In practice, additive-free and oligoantigenic/elimination diets are time-consuming and disruptive to the household; they are indicated only in selected patients. Iron and zinc are supplemented in patients with known deficiencies; they may also enhance the effectiveness of stimulant therapy. In patients failing to respond or with parents opposed to medication, omega-3 supplements may warrant a trial. A greater attention to the education of parents and children in a healthy dietary pattern, omitting items shown to predispose to ADHD, is perhaps the most promising and practical complementary or alternative treatment of ADHD. Pediatrics 2012;129:1–8

Abstract There is ongoing interest in the community in the area of intolerance reactions to food and food additives. To inform future discussions on this subject, FSANZ initiated a scientific review to give further consideration to key issues underpinning the public debate. This paper provides an overview of the contemporary understanding of food intolerance, and highlights the individual nature of intolerance reactions and the wide range of food chemicals, whether naturally occurring or added to food, which may contribute to intolerance reactions. The clinical manifestations of intolerance described in the literature vary widely, both in relation to the symptoms reported and the substances implicated. Symptoms associated with food intolerance reactions range from mild to severe but the effects are largely transient. The immune system is not involved in these reactions, and therefore these forms of food intolerance are not allergies.

Food substances most commonly associated with intolerance reactions are naturally occurring chemicals such as salicylates and biogenic amines. While some food additives may contribute to intolerance reactions, clinical observations suggest that affected individuals are usually sensitive to several substances, including both natural food chemicals as well as artificial and natural food additives. Food additives, particularly food colours, are perceived to be a major cause of intolerance reactions in the community. However, except for sulphites, clinical evidence of a causal link between food additives and intolerance reactions is limited, and the frequency, severity and spectrum of symptoms are yet to be determined.

In Australia and New Zealand, the approval of food additives follows a rigorous process based on two principles: the additive must fulfil a technological function, and must not pose a safety concern to consumers at the proposed level of use. Approved additives must be declared on the food label. This regulatory approach ensures a high level of safety for all consumers and supports dietary management for individuals affected by food intolerance.

(COMMENT by Dr H Dengate: Unfortunately the review was been written from an allergist’s point of view and appears uncomfortable with considering behavioural and learning dimensions to reactions. Many of the conclusions drawn are not drawn from quoted evidence but from personal views. Of the authors and those acknowledged, only Dr Loblay has written sparingly in this area. It is a pity that the Food Intolerance Network was not consulted in the process of this review so that other references could have been considered. See a full list of 65 references not considered)


Burke, K 2008, 'The effects of food allergy and food intolerance on the development of concepts of healthy eating and nutrition: incidence rates in an Australian population' in Allan, A, Bell, C, Cross, D, Devine, A, Martins, R, McGuigan, M, Newton, R & Rudd, C (eds.) 2008, VARIO Health Conference: physical and mental wellness - integrative approaches to Health. Conference proceedings, 1st and 2nd December, 2008. Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, WA, pp. 32-39.

A survey of food intolerance in an Australian population reported an incidence rate for diagnosed food intolerance of 19% of households. Further, because diagnoses of food intolerances may not be conclusively made until adulthood, many individuals may suffer the adverse effects of this chronic condition for years prior to diagnosis.   FULL TEXT

last updated January 2019