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While food manufacturers hide the bread preservative under innocent-sounding names, researchers suggest that these additives can make autistic symptoms worse – and we agree!

“I believed that they wouldn't put anything this harmful in our ‘daily bread’…”- Alison from story [036]


  • Autistic spectrum disorders seem to be increasing
  • Propionate-based preservatives can make rats appear autistic
  • Researchers think propionates could exacerbate autistic symptoms in children

Autistic spectrum disorders appear to be increasing. Some of the observed change is due to new diagnostic criteria for ASD but scientists think there is also a genuine increase.

1980s - autism prevalence was reported as 1 in 10,000
1990s - 1 in 2500 and later 1 in 1000
2018 - approximately 1 in 100 but as high as 1 in 38 (in South Korea)

What causes ASD?

Researchers do not know what causes ASD – so they need an animal model to test their theories.  

In a recent study from South Korea, researchers used rats treated with propionic acid – a common bread preservative.  Young rats were given under-skin injections of 500 mg/kg propionic acid every day for five days.

Researchers concluded that the propionic acid “induced abnormal neural cell organization, which may have led to autism-like neurobehaviors, including increased aggressive behavior, reduced exploratory activity, and isolative and passive behaviours. “

… So why are we giving this bread preservative to young children?

The Korean researchers wrote: 

“Since some foods such as wheat and dairy products contain propionic acid as a preservative, such food intake may exacerbate the symptoms of ASD …” - Choi et al, 2018

While Canadian researchers earlier wrote : “...exposure to propionic acid has been demonstrated in several animal models to result in the development of ASD-like behaviors, and physiological changes to the brain similar to those found in ASD are seen in adult rats acutely exposed to propionic acid and in juvenile rats systematically exposed to propionic acid pre- and postnatally”...

“this study …  may lead to further reevaluation of the widespread use of propionic acid in agriculture and the food industry…” - Frye et al, 2017

See changes in behaviour of laboratory rats given the common bread preservative propionic acid (Autism Enigma; 3:00)


What failsafers say about propionate preservatives

I agree with the Korean researchers. In my study (Controlled trial of cumulative behavioural effects of a common bread preservative, 2002), we found that bread preservative 282 could cause a variety of behavioural effects, from irritability and restlessness to inattention, sleep disturbance and many more.

Failsafers have reported a wide range of effects including autistic symptoms from this preservative:

My 4 yo son’s behaviour and manner were almost autistic … his speech was very delayed … I took him off wheat (a later challenge found he was fine on wheat, it was the bread preservative that caused the problem). The change was astonishing …. When I picked him up from preschool the teacher said "What have you done? - he's a different child - he's playing with the others and listening to us …  and the speech therapist said she had never seen a child change so dramatically within such a short period of time." – from story [036]

By 27 months my son had 2 words …  At 30 months I took him off commercial bread and at 34 months, he just started talking one day … at 36 months: He was going to be assessed for autistic disorders in a few weeks, but since taking him off 282 he has changed (he talks now! and his behaviour is so much better) and I know that his paediatrician will be amazed at his progress. – from story [357]

See more stories in our 282 propionates bread preservative story collection

What failsafers say about diet for ASD

Through this diet, my ASD child appears more and more balanced. Our highly qualified psychologist took one look at my child in the waiting room at her last appointment (a month into the diet) and said “This is a completely different child. What on earth have you been doing to achieve this?” (The achievement being a calm, responsive and fearless child.)… now the OCD, ODD and anger has lessened with the diet, I’m actually proud she’s autistic as she’s super funny, quirky and clever … - from story [1413]

I worked with a little boy (5) who has autism and when on a FS diet he was back to all normal development until he had something not on the diet...and then he would literally be in the corner of the room banging his head on a wall and no speech at all – Tallara from story [1231]

We went Full elimination for my HF Autistic 12 year old son 12 months ago and had amazing results. Teachers could not believe the difference. I only wish we had known about Failsafe when he was younger – Michelle from story [1231]

See more stories in our autism, autistic, ASD, spectrum, Aspergers story collection

Propionate-based preservatives can be listed as

propionic acid (280)
sodium propionate (281)
calcium propionate (282)
potassium propionate (283)

OR cultured anything while claiming “no artificial preservatives”, eg

cultured dextrose
cultured wheat flour
cultured rice

OR fermented anything while claiming “no artificial preservatives”, eg

fermented wheat flour (including Coles bread)
fermented wheat

More information

Is ASD increasing? US Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM)

Korean study on the prevalence of autism Kim YS and others, Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in a total population sample. Am J Psychiatry. 2011;168(9):904-12.

Korean study on autistic rat model Choi J and others Pathophysiological and neurobehavioral characteristics of a propionic acid-mediated autism-like rat model. PLoS One. 2018 Feb 15;13(2):e0192925. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0192925.

Canadian study on the effect of propionic acid on adult and juvenile rats. Frye RE and others, Modulation of Immunological Pathways in Autistic and Neurotypical Lymphoblastoid Cell Lines by the Enteric Microbiome Metabolite Propionic Acid. Front Immunol. 2017 Dec 22;8:1670. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.01670.

Australian study on the effect of the bread preservative on children’s behaviour. Dengate S1, Ruben A. Controlled trial of cumulative behavioural effects of a common bread preservative. J Paediatr Child Health. 2002;38(4):373-6.   Download this paper (6Mb pdf)

Introduction to food intolerance

Bread preservative factsheet

Autism factsheet