Journal of Health and Medicine

Chemicals in Foods and Drinks


Clinical ecologists link allergies as major factors in good or poor mental health. But how many of us have considered the possibility that the foods we eat or the chemicals we inhale may affect our health in quite dramatic ways.

In a new branch of behavioral science, known as clinical ecology, where doctors from different disciplines study the effects of foods and drinks, chemicals and gases on our personality and body, there have been many exciting findings.

These clinical ecologists have found that reactions to these substances, which may variously be called allergies, sensitivities or intolerance, may be major factors in having good or poor mental and physical health. These reactions may cause vast mood swings and create tremendous problems for the individual.

There is still disagreement in the medical field about the findings of the clinical ecologists but to anyone who has experienced relief symptoms by abstaining from particular foods, or by avoiding contact with the above substances, the proof is pretty obvious.

What is not so obvious is the possibility that a great number of people are affected without knowing it. This can happen because of the phenomena of “masking”. This is the body’s attempt to compensate for the effects of an intolerance reaction – though this compensation is successful, no symptoms are experienced.

However, a constant intolerance load, particularly if some form of stress is added, often results in a breakdown of this compensation or “masking”. Symptoms then appear although these may initially be repressed by another dose of the substance causing the intolerant reaction because this stimulates the “masking” response.

For instance, the coffee-addicted person relieves his or her headache with another cup, despite the fact that the continual coffee consumption caused the initial tendency to headaches.

These biological reactions can increase feelings of aggression and frustration. When one experiences these feelings it is easy to rationalize the behavior and feel one’s actions have been caused by external influences. Psychologists and psychiatrists call this phenomena of focusing on persons or objects outside ourselves as “displaced aggression” – it is “anger looking for a focus”.

Maybe, when the anger is excessive, the individual has experienced angry feelings before the incident triggered off the aggressive or violent behavior. In other words, the more we are in contact with substances to which we are intolerant, the more likely we are to react with inappropriately aggressive behavior to the normal frustration of daily life.

What the clinical ecologists are trying to tell us is that our allergies or intolerance can lead to pretty abnormal behavior without our really being aware of the real reasons underlying it. Therefore it is possible that much of the violence and aggression in our personal, family, neighborhood and community lives is being aggravated by these intolerable substances. Are we poisoning ourselves?

How might this be explained? We are all creatures of our environment and have difficulty avoiding different things that affect our mental and physical health. There are more chemicals and gases, for instance, in our environment than was the case with our ancestors.

Our foods and drinks have preservatives and additives. Our drinking water has chemicals for “cleansing” purposes. Motor vehicles and industry create hydrocarbons, petrochemicals and other chemicals and gases which pollute the air we breathe and people inhale all day (e.g. residents living near highly industrialized areas).

The effects of foods and drinks

Many commodities contain chemicals which have a tremendous effect on our health. Cleaning agents used for bathrooms, kitchens and laundries are such examples. Paints and “fillers” contain many chemical “nasties”. Chlorofluorocarbons used for refrigerants, solvents and propellants for spray cans (e.g. hair sprays) produce fumes which affect our behavior.

Common food and drink allergens are grains, cow’s milk and therefore dairy products and meats such as beef and veal, yeast (molds), caffeine, sugar, salicylates, tartrazine and other artificial food colors, peanut, alcohol, soy, potato, tomato, citrus and eggs.

For example, it is difficult for those suffering intolerant food reactions wishing to buy cold meats in hot weather, as they expose themselves to preservatives and other additives like salt and sugar. Basted turkeys, for instance, have butter so that those who are allergic to dairy products cannot eat them without taking precautions.

All cured meats, such as ham, pork and salami contain chemicals. A lot depends on the maker of the products as to what chemicals are contained. Some of the chemicals are “nastier” than others – e.g. sodium nitrite in hams which gives the pink color; sodium nitrate in dry cured salami; glucono delta lactose is a chemical acidifier which breaks down into gluconic acid, but there may still be the problem of chemical residue if the acidifier does not break down completely.

Chemicals in foods and drinks, and those which pollute our air, have been found to cause mood swings such as fatigue, spacing out, euphoria, depression, anger, memory and concentration loss, auditory and visual hallucinations, fear of meeting others, withdrawal symptoms, increase of anxiety and stress, muscle breakdown and cramping. Many other physical symptoms occur in different individuals depending on their particular sensitivity.

In some individuals the brain will not function very well when severe intolerant reactions occur, on occasions simple tasks may be quite difficult. Memory may be affected considerably. One important factor with intolerance is their contribution to the weakening of the immune system which can cause continuing viral infections and bronchial conditions.

In biochemical terms what is happening is that our moods, our feelings of aggression, our calmness and peace of mind, our perception of ourselves, our depressions, and our euphoric feelings are all related to the release in the brain of a variable cocktail of neurotransmitters.

Recent evidence suggests that the release of neurotransmitters may be affected by the availability of the molecules from which they are made. This availability is dependent on how rich the foods are in these molecules and how well the body is able to absorb and utilize these molecules.

Also the neurotransmitters seem to be addicted by the competing demands in the body for these molecules. All of this may be dependent on the functioning of the immune system and the susceptibility to the intolerant reaction.

There appear to be many benefits for a person who is having difficulty in their interpersonal relations, and who may be on tranquilizers to help control their behavior, to try an alternative approach through diet, chemical sensitivity testing and meditation.

A person, more aware of their intolerance, may better control their anger and aggression. The social and financial benefits in overcoming the violent and aggressive behavior should be positively seen in bringing about less conflict situations.

For people who have intolerance problems advice and support is available from the Allergies and Intolerant Reactions Association and the Mental Health Association. There is much literature on nutrition, vitamin and mineral therapy, and chemical and gas sensitivity. Some are very technical while others are easy to read.

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