Inability to concentrate, emotional distress, crazed behavior are a few of the effects of artificial food coloring on some children.
The five most compelling reasons to avoid artificial food coloring include possible links to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), hyperactivity and neurotoxicity, genotoxicity, cancer and the dyes’ complete lack of nutritional value.
1. ADHD: ADHD is likely caused by a combination of factors, including environment, brain structure and heredity. But artificial colors may also be a factor. Studies suggest an association, while an inconclusive one, between food dyes and ADHD. The hyperactivity triggered by food dyes is not only an ADHD problem, but also a public health problem.
2. Hyperactivity and Neurotoxicity: A 2004 meta-analysis of studies on food dyes and hyperactivity concluded that there was a cause-and-effect relationship between food colors and hyperactivity. Dyes “promote hyperactivity in hyperactive children, as measured on behavioral rating scales” and “society should engage in a broader discussion about whether the aesthetic and commercial rationale for the use of [artificial food colorings] is justified,” according to the Schab and Trinh 2004 analysis.
The reason artificial colors can trigger hyperactivity is because they are neurotoxic. As neurotoxins, dyes do not only impact hyperactive children. The toxins in the dyes can impair behavior in both non-hyperactive children and adults as well.
A study published in the Lancet by the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency in 2007 showed food dyes could increase hyperactive behavior in children. In the study of 3-, 8- and 9-year-olds, children were given three different types of beverages. One drink contained artificial colors, another artificial colors and sodium benzoate and a third was a control drink without additives. The results showed a connection between drinking both beverages with dyes and increased hyperactivity. This result was in children who were normally non-hyperactive.
In the UK, this study prompted warning labels that led to voluntary removal of artificial colors from many products, the USDA refuses to attach warning labels to similar products as it denies sufficient causation has been established. Red 40, in particular, has been linked to hyperactivity. Yellow 5 also has been linked to hyperactivity and behavioral issues.
3. Genotoxicity: Some artificial colors have been linked to triggering mutations or damaging chromosomes. Yellow 5 has shown genotoxic results in six of 11 studies, according to the CSPI’s report, “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks.” This amount of positive results certainly warrants further study, if not a suspension of use of Yellow 5. In available results, Blue 2 tested positive in one of 11 genotoxicity studies; Blue 1 was positive in two of nine; Green 3 was positive in three of nine; Red 3 in four of 12; Red 40 in three of 10; and Yellow 6 in two of eight.
4. Cancer: Blue 2 and Yellow 5 have been linked with tumor growth and contain cancer-causing chemicals, according to the CSPI report. Blue 2 has been shown to trigger tumors, particularly brain gliomas, in rat studies. Yellow 5 may be contaminated with several carcinogens. It’s also triggered allergic reactions and hyperactivity.
5. Lack of Value: Artificial food coloring has no nutritional value or purpose. The level of dyes in our food is mindboggling. The only reason food companies put dyes in your food is because they believe it makes the food look more palatable and therefore more appealing to the consumer. We’ve heard this song and dance before when chicken were fed arsenic to pink up their flesh. Devaluing food dyes is up to the consumer. Stop purchasing foods laced with toxic dyes and, just like in the UK, the food companies will take them out. Currently, products made by McDonald’s, Mars, Kraft, PepsiCo, and other major U.S. multinational companies contain artificial food coloring in the United States, but natural or no colorings in the United Kingdom. While you wait for the FDA to come through with a ban, you can vote with your wallet for voluntary removal of dyes from our foods.
“Because of those toxicological considerations, including carcinogenicity, hypersensitivity reactions, and behavioral effects, food dyes cannot be considered safe. The FDA should ban food dyes, which serve no purpose other than a cosmetic effect, though quirks in the law make it difficult to do so (the law should be amended to make it no more difficult to ban food colorings than other food additives),” reads the CSPI report. “In the meantime, companies voluntarily should replace dyes with safer, natural colorings.”
Avoiding all processed foods is best, but avoiding harmful dyes in particular is of utmost importance. Some U.S. companies are beginning to limit dyes (Kraft, Pepperidge Farm and Frito Lay among them); however, until all artificial dyes are voluntarily removed or banned, keep an eye on your food labels.
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