Sodium benzoate is a common food preservative and additive used in many manufactured food products. Many people have an intolerance to sodium benzoate, especially children. Some research has shown that, among its possible symptoms, a sodium benzoate intolerance may be tied to hyperactivity in children. Consult your child's doctor if you are concerned about the possibility of any food intolerance.
Food intolerance causes a slower reaction than a true food allergy. Unlike an allergic reaction, food intolerance does not involve an immune system response and is generally not thought to be life-threatening, according to BBC Health. Common food intolerances are associated with lactose, caffeine, sulphites, salicylate and sodium benzoate. Sodium benzoate is used to disguise the taste of many processed foods. It is highly concentrated in orange-flavored soft drinks, milk, meat products, condiments, baked goods and lollipops, according to the Food Reactions website.
According to Dr. Adrian Morris in an article for BBC Health, food intolerances are difficult to diagnose, because unlike food allergies, there are no reliable blood or skin tests available. However, some research has shown that sodium benzoate intolerance can cause skin reactions, such as hives, otherwise known as urticaria. A study published in 1984 in the journal, "Allergy" found that four out of 27 children experienced urticaria in response to sodium benzoate. Food Reactions also states that sodium benzoate is "known to cause nettle rash and aggravate asthma."
Sodium benzoate has received a lot of attention for its potential effects on hyperactivity and inattention, symptoms generally associated with children who have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. A study published in 2004 in the journal, "Archives of Disease in Childhood," examined the effects of eliminating artificial colorings and benzoate preservatives for one week in children with hyperactivity. After an initial assessment, children randomly received daily either periods of dietary challenge with a drink containing 20 milligrams of artificial coloring and 45 milligrams of sodium benzoate, or a placebo mixture. The researchers found a significant increase in hyperactive behavior in children who received the drink containing artificial coloring and sodium benzoate.
Do not attempt to self-diagnose food intolerances in your child. While eliminating preservatives is generally advisable whenever possible, you should discuss dietary changes with your child's doctor if you suspect that your child has a sodium benzoate intolerance. Note any foods that cause a reaction in your child, including the food and the specific reaction, and discuss this with your pediatrician.
- BBC Health: Food Allergies
- FoodReactions.org: Preservatives E200-E290
- The Lancet; Artificial Food Additive Intolerance in Patients with Angio-Oedema and Urticaria; G. Supramanian and J.O. Warner
- Archives of Disease in Childhood; The Effects of a Double Blind, Placebo Controlled, Artificial Food Colourings and Benzoate Preservative Challenge on Hyperactivity in a General Population of Preschool Children; B. Bateman, et al.