Known Problem Chemicals

Remove Known Problem Chemicals from Diet

There is a list of international recognised chemicals which cause problems for ADHD.  Most of these chemicals are known to cause issues for a range of neurological conditions and their consequences are not unique to ADHD.  Many countries have taken steps to ban many of these chemicals from being added to food and drinks however in the UK the Food Standard Agency (FSA) do not ban them as they are approved for usage by the average person in the population.  A growing number of these chemicals are being listed on the FSA's own website to be avoided by people with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Conditions) and ADHD.

The known chemicals added to food, drink and cosmetics and are known to negatively affect Prefrontal Cortex in individuals with ADHD/ASD and other neurological conditions.  These chemicals are known to negatively affect attention, hyperactivity, inhibition, emotion/behavioural control, memory, verbal and written comprehension, time management and much more besides in individuals with ADHD and co-existing conditions.  They can also make the individuals feel generally unwell and increases hyper or hypo sensory issues processing and management (covering all 5 key senses).  In summary removal of these chemicals reduces the quantity and extent of anti-social behaviours, and increases quanlity of life.

The remainder of this document covers the following topics:
  • List of Known Chemicals
  • Known Chemicals vs Additives
  • History
  • Not a quick solution, however very beneficial
  • Practical Pictorial Explanations

List of Known Chemicals
We have produced an easy to use shopping list sheet which contains the list of known chemicals to help you avoid them when shopping.

List of Problem Chemicals

Shopping list sheet: additives-shopping-list.pdf
The basic rule is if it is on this list don't consume it!  This list is regularly checked and updated with the latest findings across the globe.  As a matter of course all sweeteners are added to this list as all are known to cause issues, so if you find a new sweetener not listed here we would recommend against its usage.

Sweeteners vary as to the reasons they cause issues for ADHDers, however the main causes are increases in acid levels in the body, and with recent sugar alcohols is due to the fast metabolism of the individuals which, unlike the general population, is able to convert them to alcohol in the blood stream.

NB:  Benefits are seen from the complete removal of the entire list of chemicals.  This is not a cure and many symptoms of ADHD will still occur however this advice offers reduction and relief from the instances caused by the chemical reaction.

We recommend that families adopt the removal of these chemicals from the diet of the entire family as well as the individual with the diagnosis.  This may either provide others in the family with improvements in health, or just act as a confirmation to the individual with the condition(s) that everyone else is committed to helping them adopt this new diet.  This is specifically important for young children as they can often be resentful for being restricted in what they eat and after seeing friends eating what they cannot return home to the rest of the family doing likewise.  Full family adoption of the dietary change increases the commitment of the individual to maintain their dietary requirements outside of the home.

Known Problem Chemicals vs Food Additives
We refer to the "Known Chemicals" rather than food additives. The reason for this is that stating "Food Additives" gives the wrong impression.  Food Additives include both man made and natural chemicals of which some are really good for you and some are potentially dangers in significant amounts.  The problem is that many people associate good with natural and bad with man made but this is just a false understanding.  Arsnic is natural and very bad for you and likewise Vitamin D is man made and very good for you.  Therefore we felt it best to state "Known Problem Chemicals" as this is a much fairer categorisation and isolates the negative affects to people with ADHD and neurological conditions rather than implying an unscientific and potentially false claim of being bad for everyone, especially as the FSA states they are okay for normal consumption.

The FSA (Food Standards Agency) in 2007 on the BBC News defended food additives for use with the majority of the public, however added that there was clear evidence that those with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (which included ADHD) were detrimentally affected. It was their advice that those with such conditions should avoid the chemicals concerned.  They unfortunately provided no advice on how this choice can occur when such significant proportions of food have them in, with seemingly no choice available.  They however have provided a website (website Link) which confirms their acceptance of the effect of hyperactivity caused by specific food additives; however despite international evidence they are still unwilling to list all the additives which affect ADHD.  That said the NHS has also produced a growing list of additives on their website (Food Colours and Hyperactivity and Food Allergies).  Both the FSA and NHS seem to only list chemicals that member states of the EU are required to highlight, of which some countries have taken the step to even ban these chemicals; however much work remains on highlighting the issues with chemicals and ADHD and other neurological conditions.

During the 1970's and 1980's it was widely accepted that food additives were having a very definite negative impact on Autistic Spectrum conditions.  Doctors recommended to parents that removing key additives would improve concentration and behaviour in children.  Although it did not provide a cure, it was and still is an extremely effective way to help both children and adults with Autistic Spectrum Conditions, ADHD and other neurological conditions.  It was however removed during the 1990's from advice and recommendation by the medical professionals, mainly due to the fact it was not an outright cure and the difficulty in getting parents and patients alike to implament dietry changes.  Doctors favoured medication as the way forward stating that this was a proven cure for the conditions.  Medications however have been shown not to be a cure, however they are easier to get parents and patients to take.

We are actively campaigning to get medical professionals to tell parents of the benefits of removing known problem chemicals from diets to help parents and patients alike.  Some progress on this front has been made, although limited and is hailed as a "ground break and modern understanding" which is a little frustrating.

BBC Panorama
In 2000 BBC Panorama made a program telling everyone of this change of the medical profession and questioned whether Ritalin (being used at that time) and other medication was as effective as doctors were claiming.  They selected a child to specifically look at what problems he faced and how the medication helped him in his day to day life.  The program concluded, with support from key scientists and doctors, that the medication showed clear benefits however questioned whether this would provide a long term solution.  In 2007 Panorama returned to the child and produced a new program looking again at the claims that were made and the benefit the medication had had on the child in question.  The conclusion of the program, with support from scientists and doctors, showed that the medication had limited ability to aid those with ADHD and other autistic conditions and that the benefits were short lived on a day to day basis as well as over many years.

Where does this leave parents?
What we need to explain is that medical professionals do not know the true causes of ADHD and other neurological conditions, however today there are many working to find the answers.  The simple answer is that parents have a number of options available to them and their children, most of which need to be used in combination with no single treatment offering a cure.

Not a quick solution, however very beneficial.
It must be explained to parents that any biological change such as removing additives from diet takes between 2 weeks and 2 years to fully implament due to the way the human body works.  It is however true that parents and patients may start to notice a benefit in their behaviour or concentration in the initial two weeks, but should not be expected.  Sudden improvements tend to be more noticeable for those who are consuming particularly high amounts of these chemicals; however for those who consume less the instant improvement in symptoms is less likely but definitely noticeable over a long period.

The reason for the delay in it working is that many of these chemicals are stored in the body, and build up their presence over many years, and therefore can take up to 2 years to effectively be removed.  This is why we recommend keeping children on medication, that they have already been prescribed.  We have seen improvements in effectiveness of medication alongside our recommendations and in some cases it allows patients to come off medication.  For some where medication is not an option due to co-existing conditions or due to personal preferrance our recommendations are critical.

Parents must also understand that if these known chemicals are consumed that the negative effect can take minutes to appear (even if they've been on the diet for over 2 years) and that effect can last up to 2 weeks before subsiding.  It is therefore important that children are taught to link the additives with the symptoms they suffer from after their consumption, so that the child can chose for themselves to avoid these chemicals.  Without that education children believe that their parents are being wilfully nasty to them, by preventing them from eating food that tastes nice.

Warning on Implamenting Changes before Diagnosis
Children who maintain a good additive free diet have been shown to be able to cope with school and perform well in studies.  Removal of these known chemicals has been known to cause individuals with ADHD to not be diagnosed, which is the same experience for anyone taking ADHD medication.  To get a diagnosis for ADHD you need to avoid any advice on this site as it will prevent you gaining a diagnosis.

Practical Pictorial Explanations
It is often helpful to explain to people what is occurring using pictorial forms to explain the concepts, however obviously holes can always be picked in them when used too literally.  We have two such explanations below to try and help explain what is happening.

Picture 1 - Barrel of Sand and Water
Imagine a a barrel with a very small hole at the bottom, as representing an individual.  From the time they are born they eat food with additives in (e.g. via the placenta in the womb, via breast milk, baby formula, etc.) we can represent this as water a coarse sand being poured into the barrel.  As stated before additives which cause problems are both artificial and even natural.  The barrel half files with water on each occasion, and a small amount of course sand.  The water runs away faster however the sand has to dry before it can leave the barrel through the hole.  As the sand builds up the water takes longer to run away.  When individual is about 5 years old the barrel is third full of coarse sand.  When the barrel is 50% full you begin to see ADHD symptoms, and when it is 75% full the symptoms are more extreme.  If the barrel over flows the symptoms are in control.  Taking medication is like the water being pumped out of the barrel, however never quite managing to remove or dry out the sand.  Each time additives are consumed they raise the level in the barrel above the point of the symptom line, and as they get older more and more time is spent above this point.  Removing the additives from the diet stops this process, however the water takes two weeks to run out of the barrel and the sand then starts to empty.  The barrel however is unable to empty of the sand for another two years.  As time passes the effect of each time an additive is taken reduces.

Picture 2 - Sports Car
An individual is like a high end sports car whose manufacturer has stated that you must use unleaded petrol (which pure of unwanted minerals etc., "food without additives").  When this is done the engine ("the brain") works well and provides good performance.  However Diesel (a dirty fuel with unwanted minerals, "food with additives") is used.  The engine begins to clog and splutter.  It reduces efficiency and no longer provides performance.  Unlike this example the engine is not destroyed however unleaded petrol must be used to flush out the diesel and allow the engine to return to it's correct performance levels.

If you find these pictorial examples helpful, or especially if you don't, please let us know at


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