Harmful Effects of Preservatives in Foods

Preservatives in foods are designed to prevent bacteria growth and spoilage, but sometimes they can also prevent you from enjoying good health. While the effects of food preservatives on the body can vary with age and health status, looking into the potential harmful effects of preservatives in foods may help you reclaim good health and protect your personal well-being against toxic damage.

A woman is holding a box of frozen food. (Image: Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Breathing Difficulties

One of the harmful effects of preservatives in foods is the potential to cause breathing difficulties. According to MayoClinic.com, eliminating foods with preservatives from the diet can reduce the symptoms and severity of asthma. MayoClinic.com identified aspartame, sulfites, benzoates and yellow dye No. 5 as preservatives that could exacerbate breathing problems in asthmatics and others, while Medical News Today linked sulphites with shortness of breath and other breathing problems.

Behavioral Changes

Another harmful effect of preservatives in foods is behavioral changes, especially in young children. According to the Archives of Disease in Children, in a 2003 double-blind study of 1,873 children the consumption of food additives and preservatives led to significant increase in hyperactive behavior. Removing the preservatives or using a placebo didn't lead to these behaviors, which were measured by both parental and objective reporting. The researchers coordinating the study noted that whether the children had been previously identified as hyperactive didn't matter in terms of the effects of the preservatives and additives on their behavior.

Heart Damage

Studies of heart tissue reviewed by InChem have showed that food preservatives can weaken heart tissues. According to laboratory research, rats who consumed the highest levels of food preservatives showed the highest levels of heart damage over time.


One of the most serious harmful effects of preservatives in foods is their ability to transform into carcinogens when digested. According to InChem, nitrosamines, which include nitrites and nitrates, interact with stomach and gastric acids to form cancer-causing agents. To avoid this natural chemical reaction between your body and the preservatives, you will need to monitor your diet to eliminate nitrates and nitrites from your meals, snacks and beverages.

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