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Controlled trial of cumulative behavioural effects of a common bread preservative*


  • *

    This study was funded by the Rotary Clubs of Darwin, Darwin, NT, Australia.

 Ms S Dengate, PO Box 85, Parap, Northern Territory 0804, Australia. Fax: +61 8 8942 3099; email:


Objective:  Many anecdotes and one scientific report describe cumulative behavioural effects of bread preservative on children.

Methodology:  Twenty-seven children, whose behaviour improved significantly on the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital diet, which excludes food additives, natural salicylates, amines and glutamates, were challenged with calcium propionate (preservative code 282) or placebo through daily bread in a double-blind placebo-controlled crossover trial.

Results:  Due to four placebo responders, there was no significant difference by anova of weighted placebo and challenge Rowe Behaviour Rating Inventory means, but a statistically significant difference existed in the proportion of children whose behaviours ‘worsened’ with challenge (52%), compared to the proportion whose behaviour ‘improved’ with challenge (19%), relative to placebo (95% confidence intervals 14−60%).

Conclusions:  Irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance in some children may be caused by a preservative in healthy foods consumed daily. Minimizing the concentrations added to processed foods would reduce adverse reactions. Testing for behavioural toxicity should be included in food additive safety evaluation.