Seven artificial colors are “certifiable color additives” and must be listed on a product’s ingredient list. Made from coal tars or petroleum distillates, these colors include:
- Blue No. 1, also called Bright Blue or Brilliant Blue;
- Blue No. 2, also called Royal Blue or Indigotine;
- Green No. 3, also called Sea Green or Fast Green;
- Red No. 3, also called Cherry Red or Erythosine;
- Red No. 40, also called Orange Red or Allura Red;
- Yellow No. 5, also called Lemon Yellow or Tatrazine; and
- Yellow No. 6, also called Orange or Sunset Yellow.
Are they hazardous to my health?
Four dyes in particular – Red. No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 – are hazardous.Red No. 3 was banned from cosmetics and medicines in the 1990s because it accelerated tumors in mice, yet the FDA has allowed its use in food. 1Also in the 1990s, the U.S. FDA and Canadian scientists discovered that Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 were contaminated with carcinogens. 2 Today, some foods contain a combination of several of these dyes.There’s also been a lot of evidence – but no substantial proof – suggesting that Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Green No. 3, Red No. 40, and Yellow No. 6 cause cancer in animals. 3
How do artificial colors affect behavior?
Aside from exposing yourself to carcinogens, a host of behavior issues are linked to artificial colors.
- Red No. 40, also called Red Dye 40 or Red 40, causes aggression, hyperactivity, temper tantrums, kicking, uncontrollable kicking and screaming, nervousness, dizziness, and headaches. Red No. 40 is found in all kinds of processed foods like candy, soda pop, Pop Tarts, Kool Aid, Cheetos, Doritos – and even in vitamins and medications. 4
- Yellow No. 5, also called tartrazine or Yellow Dye 5, causes other reactions including asthma, eczema, hives, hyperactivity, irritability, lack of attention, migraines, restlessness, sleep disturbances, and aggravated carpal tunnel syndrome. 5
Especially for children, artificial colors can lead to these undesirable side effects. The Lancet, a leading medical journal in the United Kingdom, studied and proved that common artificial food colors and the preservative sodium benzoate all are linked to hyperactivity in children. 6 Small children particularly are at risk because they receive a larger amount of chemicals in food compared to their body weight. 7 But it’s virtually impossible to avoid food additives like preservatives and colors – more than 3,000 currently are used in the United States, 8 and all processed food, drinks, and most medications include additives. 9In what seems to be a direct correlation, hyperactivity, head banging and restless legs became common symptoms in children after processed foods were introduced to American diets in the 1960s. 10
How to deal
For parents who are dealing with behavior problems in their children, trying a strict elimination diet for three weeks is a good way to identify food-related causes. First, eliminate all artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives. During the three weeks without the food additives, observe your child’s behavior and physical tendencies. After three weeks, the chemicals should be out of your child’s system – slowly reintroduce additives and watch for any behavioral changes. 11
1. “Food dyes’ favor fades as possible links to hyperactivity emerge.” Lyndsey Layton. TheWashington Post. March 25, 2011.
2. “The rainbow of food dyes in our grocery aisles has a dark side.” David W. Schab and Michael F. Jacobson. The Washington Post. March 25, 2011.
3. “CSPI Says Food Dyes Pose Rainbow of Risks.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. June 29, 2010.
4. “Is the Red 40 Food Dye Having a Negative Impact On Your Child?” Associated Content. Jan. 31, 2007.
5. “Effects on Behavior and Cognition: Diet and Artificial Colors, Flavors, and Preservatives.” Lucille Beseler. International Pediatrics. 1999: Vol 14, No. 1, pp. 41-43.
“Carpal Tunnel and Yellow Dye No. 5.” Virginia Hopkins. Virginia Hopkins Health Watch.
6. “Hyper Kids? Cut out Preservatives.” Claudia Wallis. Time. Sept. 6, 2007.
7. “Head Banging.” Food Intolerance Network Fact Sheet.
8. “Effect of Artificial Food Colours on Childhood Behavior.” I. Pollock and J.O. Warner. ArchDis Child. 1990; 65:74-77.
9. “Effects on Behavior and Cognition: Diet and Artificial Colors, Flavors, and Preservatives.” Lucille Beseler. International Pediatrics. 1999: Vol 14, No. 1, pp. 41-43.
10. “Food Intolerance Network Fact Sheet – Headbanging.” Food Intolerance Network.
11. “Restless Babies.” Sue Dengate. Nursing Mothers Association. Summer 2001.
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