Common food additive the cause of food allergies, nine year study shows

Cheryl Rockwell, an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State has completed a nine year research study indicating that the synthetic food additive tert-butylhydroquinone, or tBHQ may be causing a substantial increase in food allergies. Her work is showing such promise that  she has received an award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to continue her work. The Outstanding New Environmental Scientist, or ONES, award comes with a $1.5 million, five-year grant to support her research.

Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1972, tBHQ is a preservative in many foods, such as cooking oil, nuts, crackers, waffles and breads. Often tBHQ is not listed on the label, Rockwell said. Rockwell’s  research has shown that tBHQ causes T cells, a critical part of the body’s immune system, to release a set of proteins that can trigger allergies to such foods as nuts, milk, eggs, wheat and shell fish.

Normally, the T cells release proteins, known as cytokines, that help fight the invaders, she said, but when tBHQ was introduced in laboratory models, the T cells released a different set of cytokines that are known to trigger allergies to some foods.

Her studies showed that when tBHQ was present, the T cells started behaving differently not defending the body any longer but rather causing allergies.

The expanded use of tBHQ,  parallels a rise in food allergies and an increase in the severity of some allergic reactions.

Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers