The Common Food Additive That’s Making You Tired

Many of the foods that we eat contain additives and preservatives. They are often used to give foods their colour, to help maintain their appearance and taste, as well as keep them fresh and give them a longer shelf-life. Unfortunately, there are also dangers that are associated with the consumption of many additives and preservatives, and they have been linked to everything from headaches to cancer, asthma to allergies, and even cancer — but that’s not all. New research is linking a prevalent preservative — inorganic phosphate, which is found in as many as 70% of foods in the average North American diet — to increased fatigue.

The study, which was first published in the Circulation journal, examined lab mice over a 12-week period and took a look at the adverse impact of a diet high in phosphate. Everything from the rodents’ oxygen update to their capacity for movement, in addition to their ability to produce essential fatty acids required to feed their muscles were all measured — and the findings were then compared to individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 who were enrolled in the Dallas Heart Study. Having to wear physical activity monitors for one week, it discovered that higher phosphate levels were tired to decreased physical activity. Similarly, the study on the mice also yielded the same results.

Phosphate, for the most part, is healthy, as the body requires it for the repair of our bones and teeth, in addition to assisting with nerve function and the contraction of our muscles. Phosphates are most commonly found in some of the healthiest of foods, such as fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, and dairy products. What you should be concerned with, however, is the inorganic form, which is found in many processed foods and unhealthy beverages — such as sodas and frozen foods. Because phosphates are not a nutrient that we usually think to be worried about, it isn’t one that gets very much discussion — inorganic or otherwise.

If you’re healthy, the body will usually be able to metabolize inorganic phosphate as needed. However, if you have, for example, a chronic condition like kidney disease, then your phosphate level may become a bit irregular and that is when you might notice the fatigue start to set in. If you’re worried about fatigue as a result of inorganic phosphate, or if you’re just worried about additives and preservatives in general, then the best thing you can do is purchase foods that are either fresh or non-packaged — because the fresher the food or the less packaging involved, the less likely it is to have inorganic phosphate added and therefore the less likely it is to be harmful for your health. The next thing you can do to avoid inorganic phosphate is to read the ingredient labels on the foods that you do buy. You’ll want to avoid and foods that contain the term “phos” or anything that also includes the full word, “phosphate.” If you are going to be consuming inorganic phosphate, then you should consume no more than 700 mg per day.

Aside from paying attention to the ingredients in the foods you’re eating, there are other ways that you can decrease fatigue and improve your energy levels. First and foremost, move around as much as possible. If you sit for extended periods of time, you’re more likely to become tired and less likely to want to get up. Stress is also something that can have a significant impact on feelings of fatigue, so you should try to reduce your stress level as much as possible too.

Originally published at on January 18, 2019.



Dr. Ali Ghahary is a Family Physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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