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Food Dyes Link To Cancer, Hyperactivity And Allergic Reactions

Updated on June 19, 2013

Food Dyes Are Unsafe

Food dyes, originally synthesized from coal tar and currently synthesized from petroleum, have always been controversial. Currently, there are nine approved dyes that raise health concerns and many people feel these nine dyes should be banned.

As Americans have increasingly come to rely on processed foods such as breakfast cereals, soft drinks and candies, more and more food dyes have been added into foods. The FDA's data show a dramatic five-fold increase in consumption of dyes since 1955. Food dyes are cheaper, more colorful and more stable than their natural counterparts and therefore are prefered by most processing companies.

Recent studies and research reveal that many of the tests performed on food dyes to show their safety and get them approved have been highly flawed (see below) and that many dyes are harmful to the health causing cancer, hyperactivity and allergic reactions.

Flaws In Long Term Studies Of Food Dyes

All of the studies conducted on food dyes had several flaws. To begin with, all toxicological studies done on food dyes were commissioned, conducted, and analyzed by the chemical industry and their academic consultants. Clearly this is a conflict of interest and biases influence the design, conduct, and interpretation of the studies. Ideally the dyes should be tested by independent sources.

Next, virtually every single test done examined only one dye at a time. This is unrealistic and does not mimic food dyes as they are used in most products which is mixed with other food dyes. Dyes being mixed might lead to additive or synergistic effects.

Finally, most of the studies lasted no longer than two years-and some were much shorter. Also, many studies did not include an in utero phase.

In spite of these flaws, the studies conducted STILL show that food dyes are harmful to the health and should be eliminated from foods.


Carcinogenicity Of Food Dyes

The FDA has established legal limits for cancer-causing contaminants in dyes. Batches of dyes are tested by chemists to determine whether or not a dye will pose a risk of cancer to the acceptable level of one person in one million. Though this process sounds good, it is problematic for the following reasons: per capita usage of dyes has increased by 50% since the 1990 tolerance levels were set. Second, the FDA did not consider the increased risk that dyes pose to children, who are both more sensitive to carcinogens and consume more dyes per unit of body weight than adults. Third, and most importantly, results actually showed that levels of bound benzidine, a carcinogenic contaminant in at least Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 dyes, far exceeded levels of free dyes. Finally, as mentioned, no effects of dyes in combination was examined.

The FDA only measures 'free' contaminants and, hence, is blind to those bound up in other molecules. large amounts of bound carcinogens may be present.

If the FDA considered those four factors in evaluating risks, the risks posed by the two yellow dyes-which comprise 49 percent of all dyes used-let alone all dyes taken together, would exceed the one-in-amillion standard.

In addition, Red 3 and Citrus Red 2 (used to dye oranges more orange) caused cancer in rats (some uses were banned in 1990), and red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are tainted with cancer-causing contaminants. Evidence suggests, though does not prove, that Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40, and Yellow 6 cause cancer in animals. There certainly is not "convincing evidence" of safety.

(Image By WGyuri at Flickr)

Genotoxicity Of Food Dyes

Genotoxicity refers to the ability of a substance to cause mutations or damage chromosomes (which can lead to cancer.) Yellow # 5, showed positive findings in 6 out of 11 genotoxicity studies. This is cause for alarm. Blue #2 only showed positive findings in 1 out of 11 genotoxicity studies. Much less cause for alarm.


Neurotoxicity Of Food Dyes

A 2004 meta analysis of numerous studies concluded that dyes "promote hyperactivity in hyperactive children, as measured on behavioral rating scales" and that "society should engage in a broader discussion about whether the aesthetic and commercial rationale for the use of [artificial food colorings] is justified" (Schab and Trinh 2004).

Due to the overwhelming evidence that some food dyes alone (yellow #5) and many food dyes used in combination have been shown to cause hyperactivity and impair the behavior of children, they are required to be labeled across countries in the European Union. The label reads: "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."

Sadly, but not surprisingly, products made by companies such as McDonald's, Mars, Kraft, PepsiCo, and other major U.S. multinational companies contain dyes in the United States, but natural or no colorings in the United Kingdom. For example, McDonald's Strawberry Sundae in Britain being colored with strawberries, but in the United States with Red dye 40. Likewise, the British version of Fanta orange soda gets its bright color from pumpkin and carrot extract, but in the United States the color comes from Red 40 and Yellow 6.

Image and interesting article on food dyes and their safety and how they link to behavior can be found HERE


Getting Dyes Out of Foods

Multinational food companies have stated that they do not use food dyes in products in Europe at the request of government pressure. They also state that until they are ordered not to use them or consumers demanded they be removed from foods, they will continue to use them.

The FDA, which is supposed to protect consumers from unsafe food ingredients, should ban most or all of the dyes. Consumer activists have long sought to persuade the FDA to ban dyes. We can do our part by reading labels and choosing foods that are not processed and do not use chemical dyes. Numerous natural colorings can and could be used in place of dyes: beet juice, beta-caramel, carotene, carrot juice, chlorophyll, elderberry juice, grape juice/skin, paprika extract, purple corn, purple sweet potato, red cabbage, and turmeric.

"Dyes add no benefits whatsoever to foods, other than making them more 'eye-catching' to

increase sales," said James Huff, the associate director for chemical carcinogenesis at the National

Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ National Toxicology Program.

Comments On Food Dyes - I'd love to hear from you

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    • mannasugar profile image

      mannasugar 7 years ago

      Excellent Lens on Health....

      What is the best way to eat Healthy and avoid food dyes?

    • nightbear lm profile image

      nightbear lm 7 years ago

      This is frightening, food dyes seem to be everywhere, great lens