Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What's the deal with Artificial Food Dye?

A NewsAnchorMom Reader sent me this interesting article about artificial food dyes. I have never really thought about the topic. This Baltimore Sun.com article brings up some good points!

Almost 40 years ago, artificial food dyes had their moment in the sun. In 1969, Soviet scientists announced that Red Dye #2 caused cancer in rats. Seven years later, the Food and Drug Administration agreed, and banned the ubiquitous coloring from U.S. food - creating a cultural icon for a generation that used "Red Dye #2" as shorthand for anything toxic. Now, synthetic dyes are getting a second run. New research indicates the chemicals can disrupt some children's behavior, and activists and consumer groups are asking for bans or limits on the dyes.

A prestigious British medical journal recommended that doctors use dye-free diets as a first-line treatment for some behavior disorders; British regulators are pressuring companies to stop using the dyes, and some are complying. The issue has generated much less attention on this side of the Atlantic. The FDA says the dyes are safe, and has no plans to limit their use.

Eight dyes are commonly used in packaged food: Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the dye industry produces five times as much dye as it did 50 years ago. Dyes are sometimes even used to simulate the color of fruits or vegetables.

"At this point, there's no evidence of a connection between dyes and children's behavior," says FDA consumer safety officer Judith Kidwell. She points out that in 1982, a National Institutes of Health panel examined the safety of artificial dyes and found no evidence of risk. That attitude frustrates activists. "They're at least 20 years behind the science," says Michael F. Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Last month, the group petitioned the FDA to ban the use of the dyes, as well as sodium benzoate, a common preservative that critics also suspect of contributing to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD."

At the very least, they ought to give some consideration to what the British government is doing," Jacobson said. The FDA is reviewing the CSPI's petition; a spokesman said he didn't know when the agency would respond. Scientists aren't sure how these chemicals might affect the brain. There are only eight artificial food dyes used in the U.S. To get specific colors, manufacturers mix them. All are made from petroleum or coal tar, and most are in the "azo" family, which means they contain a specific kind of nitrogen. Some researchers have found evidence that azo dyes interfere with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in the ability to focus and think clearly.

Whatever the possible cause, the debate will likely heat up here, in part because ADHD has become so widely diagnosed. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 4.4 million American children have the disorder. People with ADHD have trouble focusing and act impulsively.In 2003, 2.5 million children were taking medication to treat the disorder, usually powerful stimulants such as Ritalin.

I assume the dyes are used simply to make the food look better. It does seem silly that we are ingesting these chemicals just because they look good.

What are your thoughts on this story?

-NewsAnchorMom Jen

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5 comments:

SallyN said...

Eiw. I am thoroughly grossed out by the fact that the dyes are derived from goal tar.

I like my red M&Ms, but not THAT much!

Tasha said...

I wonder if my belly aches after consuming M&M's has anything to do with the dyes?

eeeeew to petroleum and goal tar!

Shannon said...

I know of a woman who avoids red dye because it makes her short-tempered and angry and makes her daughters' behavior very difficult as well. She will actually refer to "red dye exposure" the way a Celiac would refer to "gluten exposure." So yes, I believe there is very definitely a connection!

I think there is so little we really understand about food allergies and how they affect us both mentally and physically.

newsanchormom.com said...

And to think, the only point of the dye is to make the product look better. That's it. Seems silly!

MommyRN said...

This is definitely a serious issue. When I was 5 years old, my parents took me to a Clinical Ecologist MD (now called Environmental Medicine Doctor) b/c I was apparently exibiting suicidal tendancies (and the psychiatrist that they took me to first told my parents that I was completely normal). Long story short: he diagosed me with a brain chemistry reaction ("cerebral allergy" or now called "environmental illness")that occurs when I ingest yellow dyes #5,#6, or Aspirin.

Besides suicidal depression, I sometimes also exibited signs of what would now be called ADD, and/or sudden rage. Once my parents knew the problem, yellow dyes were removed from my diet, and besides ingesting the occasional dye on accident, I have lived a completely normal life. (Graduated Suma from college, happily married, happy mommy)

ADD is on the same spectrum as Autism. There is an enormous amount of research that now links food dyes to both ADD, ADHD, and Autism. Check it out on the Internet. And guess what: it's genetic. My mom later found out that she had a problem with Red #40as well as my yellow colors #5,6. I also have one nephew with autism, one with ADD, one child with ADD (obviously linked to colors, though I haven't figured out which ones yet-no candy etc. for her), one cousin with ADD (who also has trouble with sudden rage followed by serious depression), and one cousin and one aunt with what I call "Heckle and Jyde" (sp?) behavior-nice one minute then out of control the next- they refuse to acknowledge that they may have a food dye-related environmental illness. Too bad; I am sure that my parents' discovery saved my life many years ago.

 
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