Vol. 12, No. 1, 2006 Page 2&4

Combination of additives, food colorings toxic to brain cells

The common food additives MSG and aspartame can become highly toxic to brain cells when combined with certain artificial colorings, according to new research. The findings support claims that food additives and colorings are culprits in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other learning and behavioral disorders.

Karen Lau and her colleagues created two combinations of food additives—MSG combined with the food coloring "brilliant blue," and aspartame combined with the food coloring "quinoline yellow"—and studied the effects of the mixtures on nerve cells, using mouse neuroblastoma cells as a model. The researchers report that while each of the four substances in isolation could harm cells at high enough concentrations, the combinations exhibited a powerful synergistic effect, stunting nerve cell growth to a far greater degree than individual toxicities would suggest—up to four times as much for MSG/brilliant blue, and up to seven times as much for aspartame/quinoline yellow. The researchers note that the concentrations of additives and colorings found to be toxic in combination were "theoretically achievable in plasma by ingestion of a typical snack and drink."

The effects of such toxic combinations of additives and colorings on brain development during early childhood, the researchers say, could be profound. "Cell proliferation, migration, differentiation and synapse formation progress in a tightly programmed and orderly fashion," they note. "Interference with any stage of this cascade of events may alter normal progression of subsequent stages and short-term disruptions may have long-term effects later in life."


"Synergistic interactions between commonly used food additives in a developmental neurotoxicity test," Karen Lau, W. Graham McLean, Dominic P. Williams, and C. Vyvyan Howard, Neurotoxicology, December 13, 2005. Address: Karen Lau, Developmental Toxicopathology Unit, Department of Human Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Liverpool, Sherrington Buildings, Liverpool L69 3GE, UK.


"Combining food additives may be harmful, say researchers," Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian, December 21, 2005.

Return to:
[Author Directory] [Front Page] [Issue Index] [Subject Index] [Title Index]