Jorma Takala shares his experience of self-discovering the dangers of food additives.
My Rocky Childhood
When I was kicked out of elementary school, school administrators ordered my mother to take me to a specialist. He gave her a simple explanation for my behavior: I was a sociopath. (Gee, sorry Mom — that must have been a heck of a day for you.)
My mother had moved to Washington D.C. from Finland, and a few years later I was born. At the time of my diagnosis, she was working as the secretary to the Ambassador of Finland, a position where taking time off to deal with family problems was not an accepted practice. Not only was I difficult for her to manage, but I had migraines that made me cry incessantly. Mom tells me that my problems started when I was three years old. At the time she could not figure out the cause.
During that period (1960s) behavioral problems like mine were over looked and I never received any special education classes, or any program to address my problems. Life pretty much went downhill from there. I quit high school because I was unable to learn much of anything.
An Even Rockier Adulthood
By the time I turned forty, I was coping with a history of multiple arrests for anger-related events, depression, jerking movement in my legs, continuing migraines, and two failed marriages. Add to that the loss of every job I ever had due to my inability to interact socially with others. My life was a mess. I self-diagnosed a bipolar disorder which was later confirmed by a psychologist.
I had managed to get my GED, and later earned an associate degree in technology, graduating at the top of my class. Yet I didn’t make eye contact with people, and this added to the distrust authority figures felt when dealing with me. I couldn’t “read” people’s reactions, so when they made jokes or used sarcasm I was usually offended and overreacted. This was compounded by my own inability to joke or use sarcasm properly, so my efforts were seen as distasteful, off-color and inappropriate. Needless to say, relationships just didn’t work out no matter how hard I tried.
Gratefully, three years ago, in 2006, my life took a radical shift for the better. At age 45 I went to the hospital with a glucose level that was out of control. I learned I had Type 2 diabetes. With no insurance, I couldn’t afford medications to help moderate my blood sugar levels. My wife (#3 and wonderful) decided we would cook at home and make everything from scratch, addressing my diabetes with diet alone. For two months straight I ate home-cooked meals, and I was shocked at how much better I felt. The migraines left me, my mood stabilized, and depression lifted. The tics in my legs settled down, and I gradually started looking people in the eye when speaking with them. The psychologist who confirmed the diagnosis of bipolar disorder said it was in remission.
A Dramatic Change for the Better
One day we decided to grab a bite to eat while out of the house. I had a steak submarine sandwich; it seemed like a sensible meal. Yet I had an instant, severe allergic reaction: a migraine, irritability, pressure in my head, and hives–itching all over, like a hyper-reaction to a bee sting. Puzzled, I investigated the ingredients and learned there was Red Dye #40 in the prepared meat. Because I had been eating all natural foods prior to this, it was now easy to pinpoint the problem. This was a life-changing event for me. (See here for info on the chemistry of Red Dye #40.)
I began to be more aware of my reactions to anything that had additives in it. For example, I’ve learned that certain artificial colors can make my pupils dilated, causing light sensitivity which affects my sleep. I started reading the literature on additives and familiarized myself with the Feingold movement, and the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group in England. I understood how artificial colors, flavorings, and preservatives have the potential to affect many people who have no clue as to why they are behaving, feeling, or thinking the way they do. I could see how additives in foods, drinks, and medications are destroying the lives of others, just like they destroyed mine.
On occasion if I slip-up while eating out, I always see an immediate physical and mental reaction. Fortunately, I’ve found I can take dye-free Benedryl gelcaps (dosed according to package instructions) for the day. Some relief often begins within 30 minutes.
Margarine (or artificial butter flavoring, like the stuff used in most microwave popcorn) seems to cause the worst reactions and they can last for a week or more. The reaction is so severe that I almost need to go to the hospital. When I was consuming typical processed items and fast-food all the time, I had no awareness that diet was causing my many problems. So long as I avoid all artificial colors, flavors, and other additives such as MSG, TBHQ, BHA and BHT, my relationships go smoothly and I can lead a normal life.
Well, OK … maybe not 100% “normal”! I have symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome. With this condition there is a tendency to focus on a single topic, and sometimes it can be like an obsession. Because avoidance of additives has given me a new life, I have researched the topic like crazy, and I’m shocked at how the food industry continues their reprehensible practices with disregard for our health and the health of our children. I consider them the bane of our modern generation. In fact, I am so passionate about this subject that sometimes people have to remind me that additives aren’t the one and only cause for everyone’s health problems!
I believe the damage inflicted by artificial additives is greatly underestimated, and I urge people to avoid them scrupulously.