Sulfites - those infamous additives used to make food last longer and look fresher - are ubiquitous in our food supply and environment, and they're making millions of us miserable and causing some of us to get very sick. So says Australian author, researcher, and certified natural therapist Paul Barratt-Hassett, who believes sulfites and other food additives have created "a global pandemic" of symptoms, syndromes, illnesses, and even some deaths.
Barratt-Hassett, who says he healed himself of a debilitating long-term health condition simply by removing sulfites from his diet, is on a mission to inform people about this oft-hidden menace. In the process, he also hopes to influence food labeling laws and other industry practices so consumers can make more informed choices.
Earlier this year he published a book, "The Sulphite Connection," in which he tells his own dramatic story and shares his extensive research and eye-opening revelations about the problems sulfites cause, and the culpability of the food industry.
Barratt-Hassett says he was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia back in 1990, though he had lived with the condition for all of his adult life. Fibromyalgia, which can make life truly miserable for sufferers, is characterized by pain in the muscles and surrounding structures, often accompanied by severe fatigue and exhaustion not abated by rest or sleep.
It wasn't until 2010 - two decades after being diagnosed - that Barratt-Hassett accidentally discovered the sulfite connection. His research led him to discover that sulfites are everywhere in the food supply, "hidden and undeclared," as he puts it. "After researching which foods and food ingredients were adulterated with sulfites I removed them from my diet, and almost instantly all my symptoms disappeared. I was literally healed overnight." He also says he lost over 20kg - a little over 44 pounds - of excess body fat (without dieting), and his energy level has exploded. "I've had a total health transformation," he says.
While his case may seem extreme, he thinks he isn't all that unusual, and he firmly believes sulfites could be the culprit for millions of people who feel chronically unwell despite normal results from medical tests. But how does a person know if sulfites really are affecting his or her health"There's a lot of debate about cause and effect," says Barratt-Hassett. "I'm not a doctor or a scientist and don't pretend to be, but the research I've done indicates that sulfites are making just about everyone sick to some extent. Some people are more sensitive than others, of course, but all of us who eat processed, manufactured food are affected."
While fatalities are probably relatively rare, Barratt-Hassatt believes sulfites can seriously compromise health and quality of life in both the short and long term. He says, "There are numerous scientific studies, news articles, and academic papers indicating that sulfites are toxic and have no legitimate place in our food chain."
Besides fibromyalgia, he notes, sulfites have been linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, allergies, asthma, bed wetting, bloating, brain fog, candida and other fungal infections, diabetes, depression, ear infections, heart palpitations, hay fever, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), immune deficiencies, joint pain, lethargy, muscle weakness/loss, nose bleeds, skin conditions, tooth pain and sore gums, vaginal yeast infections, and more. Sulfites can also destroy vitamin B1 (thiamine), a nutrient essential for metabolism of carbohydrates and alcohol.
Unfortunately sulfites are very much a part of the food chain, used in many packaged and processed foods such as gelatins, gravy mixes, baked goods, jams, jellies, fruit toppings, pickles and relish, and dried potatoes. Dried fruits and some processed shrimp, packaged fruit juices, maple syrup, beers, and all wines also contain sulfites. Packaged foods are tricky because even if sulfites weren't added to the product itself, ingredients containing sulfites could still have been used in the manufacturing process. "To a large extent our food is no longer food," says Barratt-Hassett, "but a mixture of chemicals prepared in a laboratory instead of a kitchen."
And sulfites are not just in foods. They're also in cosmetics, fake-tanning products, perfumes, water supplies (including bottled water), stationary supplies, medications, antibiotics, animal food and animal medications, and agriculture chemicals like pesticides.
Perusal of product labels isn't sufficient for those who wish to avoid sulfites, especially in their food. "There are loopholes in the laws that allow sulfites and other chemicals to be put into our foods without the manufacturers having to label them as such," explains Barratt-Hassett. In his book he elucidates the many ways in which the food industry is putting sulfites and sulfite-based chemicals in our food chain - "from seed all the way to our dinner plates" - and no one is ever told about it. The fact that it is often so difficult to know whether a food or other product contains sulfites makes it harder for many people to be aware that they may be sensitive or even allergic to the additive. Even going "organic" isn't foolproof, as in some cases other ingredients that are not organic - and that contain sulfites - can make up part of the final product.
"I also believe that sulfites are highly addictive because of a phenomenon known as 'allergy addiction' - it's similar to that of a smoker," says Barratt-Hassett. "Sulfites enter our food chain through so many channels, and people literally get addicted to the foods containing them." Among many other problems, this addiction can lead to unwanted weight gain.
Though laws vary from country to country, the problem is global. "All countries that have processed foods or use pesticides on their produce have a sulfite content in their food that is undeclared," says Barratt-Hassett. U.S. labeling regulations currently don't require products to indicate the presence of sulfite in foods unless it is added specifically as a preservative, although many companies voluntarily label sulfite-containing foods. If sulfites are used in food processing but not specifically added as a preservative, they are only required to be listed if there are more than 10 parts per million (ppm) in the finished product. Australia and New Zealand have similar regulations, with many more loopholes than Barratt-Hassett would like.
"For instance, levels under 10 parts per million are not required to be labeled," he says. "Furthermore, there is a '5% rule' that applies to any food additive under a technical function ruling. When sulfites are used as a preserving agent, if the makeup of an end product does not exceed 5% of the preserving function of the sulfites, it doesn't need to be labeled." The problem is that many people are sensitive to sulfites even when they're present at levels too low to require disclosure. Not surprisingly, Barratt-Hassett wants to see much more transparency and accuracy in labeling.
In fact he would like to see widespread reform not only in food manufacturing and labeling laws and practices, but in agriculture as well. In this regard he is right in sync with the burgeoning movement towards sustainable, ethical farming and food production, a movement that is also responsible for the "buy-local" craze, urban gardening and poultry co-ops, and the uber-popularity of farmers' markets. But there's still a long way to go. Meanwhile, he says, one of the smartest things individuals can do for their health is to remove as many sulfites as they possibly can from their diet, their body, and their environment.
While that's easier said than done, Barratt-Hassett says it's well worth it. He is convinced that eliminating sulfites can help millions of people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as those who have numerous other specific health complaints, and people who just generally feel unwell. He says the research he has collected and presents in his book can also help parents who want to make better and more informed choices about food to help with their kids' behavior, development, and learning; and it can aid people who want to eat healthy, real food but aren't sure if they are eating the right stuff. "I honestly think that getting rid of sulfites can help a lot of folks get well, and feel better than they ever thought they could, without the use of drugs," he says. "I'm living proof."
"The Sulphite Connection" is currently available as an electronic download from the author's web site, www.thesulphiteconnection.com, for $34.95.
For more information visit www.thesulphiteconnection.com