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Adverse Reactions to Drug and Food Additives: Supplement

Last updated on: September 12, 2021

Common questions and Answers

Adverse Reactions to Drug and Food Additives: SupplementIs it possible or desirable to have an additive-free diet??

You can avoid food additives in the U.S. by eating at restaurants that say “no food additives” and buying natural, unprocessed foods for the home. Generally, however, people are anaphylactic to only one particular substance. If they can figure out what that is, they can avoid just that substance specifically; they don’t have to strive for an additive-free diet.

Are additives in general harmless unless one has a specific allergy to them?

That is correct. The Food and Drug Administration has a list of additives that are considered to be safe. Those have no obvious problems associated with them, unless one looks at a particular group of people who have an unusual sensitivity to a particular chemical.

How do asthmatics respond when they eliminate sulfites from their diet?

They do not generally improve, because only five to 10% of asthmatics are in fact sulfite-sensitive, and they are of necessity already avoiding sulfites because otherwise they would be having reactions all the time; the remaining 95% will not notice any difference at all.

Are there any potentially dangerous additives that might not be labeled?

In the U.S., I would say no. It’s fairly well covered.


Are there any additives that might appear on labels under confusing code names or numbers?

The commonest confusion tends to arise in the case of monosodium glutamate, which often appears on labels as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or added hydrolyzed something-or-other, but not as MSG. In addition, some colourings appear under the name “natural colours,” though they may provoke hypersensitive reactions in some people. The term “artificial colouring,” or “other approved FD&C dyes,” may also appear in place of the actual name of the dye used. The dye Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine), for example, must be named specifically, but there are other individual dyes for which no such regulation exists.

Does the food or drink make any difference in how the additive affects the system? Is there any difference between equal doses of sulfites in a potato salad and in a carbonated drink?


When sulfites are present in a liquid or gas medium, then it’s much more likely that they will be inhaled by an asthmatic and provoke a reaction. If it is actually a constituent part of the food, for example if it is bound to a potato, then it’s much less likely to escape as sulfur dioxide. Of the five percent of asthmatics who are sulfite-sensitive, probably 95% would have no reaction to the potato, whereas they would be much more likely to react to the sulfites in a carbonated drink.

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