Phenols are the chemical compounds that give color to foods such as the red in a raspberry and the blue in a blueberry; phenolic compounds created by plants are called salicylates. Phenols are also found in artificial colors, artificial flavors and preservatives, and these can cause symptoms in some people.
Symptoms of Sensitivity
Sensitivity to phenols and salicylates usually occurs within 20 minutes to two hours of ingestion. Signs of sensitivity to phenols and salicylates can include:
- Red cheeks or ears after eating
- Inappropriate laughter
- Lack of focus
Please note that these symptoms are not exclusive to sensitivity to phenols and salicylates, as they can also be caused by other foods or conditions.
Mechanism of Action
Phenols and salicylates are sulfur-containing compounds, and sulfur is processed by an enzyme called phenolsulfotransferase (PST). Children who have autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, dyslexia and Sensory Processing Disorder as well as those with immune-system disorders such as allergies and asthma often have difficulty processing sulfur (known as low sulfation).
Ultimately, low sulfation can be caused by any of a variety of factors, some of them genetic, and some of them acquired:
- Deficiency of the PST enzyme
- MTHFR genetic mutation
- SUOX genetic mutation
- Overgrowth of yeast such as Candida and/or other pathogens in the gastrointestinal tract
- Leaky gut
- Exposure to chlorine
- High toxic load
- Nutritional deficiencies
In addition, some phenols chemically look very similar to neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine which is also a phenolic compound, and can act as neurotoxins by binding to neurotransmitter receptors.
Foods to Avoid
Obviously, removal of problematic foods (some are listed below) is one of the first things to do to reduce symptoms. There is no way to eliminate all phenols because they are in every food with color, but reducing their intake can greatly improve these symptoms. The Feingold diet eliminates some salicylates and all artificial phenolic additives, reducing some of the phenols in the diet. Sara’s diet removes all known phenolic compounds.
High Phenol Foods
Phenols are commonly found in:
- Berries of all kinds
- Almond milk
- Green peppers
- Spices such as turmeric
- Artificial colors
- Artificial flavors
High Salicylate Foods
Natural salicylates are found in:
- All berries
- Grapes and raisins
- Peppers (bell and chili)
- Pickles made from cucumbers
What Else Can Be Done
No child wants to think that they will have to avoid problematic foods for the rest of their life. That’s a big burden for a child to carry. By implementing some of the following recommendations, you can lessen the load on your child’s body, allow it to heal and perhaps reduce the need to avoid problematic foods.
Heal the Gut
Removing problematic foods can reduce gastrointestinal inflammation and is thus the first step to reducing symptoms. The next step is to implement a gut-healing diet such as the GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) diet or Body Ecology Diet. A specialized practitioner such as a naturopath or functional-medicine doctor can help with gastrointestinal tests, probiotics, prebiotics, digestive enzymes and nutritional supplements.
Allergy Elimination Techniques
BioSET and NAET are similar allergy-elimination techniques. They are both non-invasive and use a combination of chiropractic techniques, acupressure and Traditional Chinese Medicine to either permananently eliminate or at least reduce the allergic impact of specific foods and environmental triggers.
Lower the Total Load of Stressors
A body cannot heal if it is in a state of stress. Stress doesn’t always come in the form of emotional stress. It can also be due a child’s total load of stressors such as:
- Biological stressors such as
- Environmental stressors such as environmental toxicity
- Behavioral stressors such as too much screen time
- Educational stressors such as an inappropriate curriculum
- Physical stressors such as:
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Sources & References
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Konikowska, K., et al. The influence of components of diet on the symptoms of ADHD in children. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2012;63(2):127-34.
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Millichap, J.G., et al. The diet factor in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics. 2012 Feb;129(2):330-7.
Silfverdal, S.A., et al. [Food additives can increase hyperactivity in children. Results from a British study confirm the connection]. Lakartidningen. 2008 Feb 6-12;105(6):354-5.
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Stevens, L.J., et al. Dietary sensitivities and ADHD symptoms: thirty-five years of research. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2011 Apr;50(4):279-93.
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Davis, Sheri. All Natural Mom’s Guide to the Feingold Diet: A Natural Approach to ADHD and Other Related Disorders. Sheri Davis, 2014.
Feingold, Ben. The Feingold Cookbook for Hyperactive Children, and Others Associated with Food Additives and Salicylates. Random House, 1979.
Feingold, Ben. Why Your Child Is Hyperactive: The Bestselling Book on How ADHD Is Caused by Artificial Food Flavors and Colors. Random House, 1985.
Hersey, Jane. Why Can’t My Child Behave?: Why Can’t She Cope? Why Can’t He Learn? The Feingold Diet Updated for Today’s Busy Families. Pear Tree Press, 2014.
Matthews, Julie. Nourishing Hope for Autism: Nutrition and Diet Guide for Healing Our Children. Healthful Living Media, 2008.