Food dyes and additives are chemical substances that were developed to enhance the appearance of food by giving it artificial color. People have been doing it for centuries, but the very first color added to food was back in 1856 from coal tar. It was the first artificial food coloring extracted from coal tar. Nowadays, food dyes are made from petroleum. Over these years, hundreds of such synthetic dyes have been produced, but most of them are now found toxic. There are only a handful of artificial colors associated with the least health risk and still used in food.
Food manufacturers prefer artificial food dyes over natural such as beta carotene and beta extract, because they produce vibrant color. However, there is still a bit of ambiguity regarding the safety of artificial food dyes. All of the synthetic dyes have gone through the process of testing for toxicity in animal studies. Regulatory agencies, like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety and Authority (EFSA), have concluded that food coloring does not cause significant health risks. However, not everyone agrees with this statement. Interestingly, dyes commonly used in one country are banned in another. It makes it highly confusing to assess their safety.
Food dyes may cause hyperactivity in sensitive children. In 1973, a pediatric allergist claimed that artificial food colorings and preservatives in food caused hyperactivity and learning problems in children. At that time, there was very little evidence available to prove this association. Soon, the doctors adopted an elimination diet as a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The diet eliminates all artificial food colorings, along with a few other artificial ingredients.
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One clinical study found that removing artificial food dyes from the diet, along with a preservative called sodium benzoate, significantly reduced hyperactive symptoms. Another study showed a 73% decrease in symptoms in children with ADHD. One of the earliest studies published in 1978 found no change in children’s behavior when given food additives. Yet, it appears that not all the children react the same way to food dyes and coloring. Researchers at Southampton University found a genetic component that determines how food dyes affect a child.
The safety of artificial food dyes is highly controversial. Interestingly, studies using Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 found no evidence of cancer-causing effects. However, Blue 2 was found to be associated with a brain tumor, while in other studies, it was not. Erythrosine, also known as Red 3, is the most controversial dye. Male rats given erythrosine had an increased risk of thyroid cancer. However, later FDA concluded it to be not a cause of thyroid cancer. Thus, cancer-causing agents are present in dyes but at low levels, which are presumed to be safe.
Some artificial food dyes can also cause an allergic reaction. In multiple studies, Yellow 5 has been shown to cause hives and asthma symptoms. Interestingly, people having an allergy to aspirin are more likely to be allergic to Yellow 5. In a study conducted in people with chronic hives or swelling, 52% had an allergic to artificial food dyes: some other colors, particularly Blue 1, Red 40. Yellow 6, may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
However, it is hard to conclude whether you should avoid food additives or not. It is not such a significant health risk, but if you have a child with hyperactive or aggressive behavior, it may be beneficial to remove artificial dyes from their diet.
Until Next Time,
Team Doctor ASKY!