Listen to a lie long enough and you’ll start to accept it as the truth. Didn’t the tobacco industry use images of physicians and athletes to sell cigarettes back in the last century? Babe Ruth hawked White Owl cigars and Raleigh cigarettes. William Bendix sold Chesterfield. The highly-trusted and unquestionably credible FDA had a meeting last March to discuss the properties of artificial food colorings and evaluate their relationship to hyperactivity in children. Based on their review of the published data, “FDA concludes that a causal relationship between exposure to color additives and hyperactivity in children in the general population has not been established.” For certain susceptible children, however, they admit their condition “may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives.”
The toxicity potential of synthetic food additives is hard to pin down. Just because a single substance demonstrates no harmful effects doesn’t explain what happens when it’s combined with another “harmless” substance. Many foods contain more than one colorant. An example of single-substance safety is ammonia. Used with adequate ventilation it’s a relatively harmless cleaner unless abused. The same for chlorine bleach. But mix the two and you get a toxic gas, hydrazine, used to make rocket fuel. That’ll clean the scum off the shower walls! With the amount of adverse publicity about artificial colorings, you’d think the makers would look for something more natural, like beets.
Companies use artificial colors to make their products look pretty. Foods with vibrant, saturated colors are more appealing than those without. Hot dogs are naturally gray. When’s the last time you saw one? The color of a food tells us that it has value. Red apples are more valued than green ones. The natural medicines in foods are colorful. Beta-carotene is associated with yellow and orange; anthocyanins with red and purple. Even purple cabbage has its fans. Some oranges don’t turn that color unless growing conditions are perfect: cool nights, warm days. Many folks won’t buy green oranges from Florida, so what’s the broker to do? Spray ‘em orange. Now the mind is fooled into thinking this orange is healthier than the blotchy one next to it.
Most studies on food additives last for too short a time to render meaningful results. A comet assay is a sensitive but uncomplicated testing procedure that detects DNA damage at the level of the cell. Using this procedure, scientists at Japan’s Laboratory of Genotoxicity at Hachinohe National College found that, of the types of food additives, dyes are most genotoxic. Dose-related DNA damage from commonly-used food dyes was found in the stomach, colon, and bladder of test animals, with colon damage appearing at doses close to the acceptable daily intake. (Sasaki. 2002) (Tsuda. 2001)
Coal tar and petrochemicals are the main sources of the artificial colors that go into our foods, and these are ultimately dangerous to our health. It makes little sense to put these into our food supply if we’re not designed to ingest them in the first place. But selling products and making money are the bottom line. Without at least a little prior knowledge, the unsuspecting consumer would never know that yellow #5 is cleverly disguised by its chemical name, tartrazine, sometimes called E102. If mixed with blue #1, called E133, it makes green. Blue #1 may contain aluminum, although potassium and calcium salts are more common. Most of E133 ends up in the feces, which could be green. Tartrazine has provoked allergic reactions in sensitive persons, but you never know who that is until it happens, and most of us never make a connection. (Kashanian. 2011) To its credit, the FDA will seize products that do not declare the presence of tartrazine, which also is alleged to exacerbate asthma symptoms. There is a blue #2, but it’s seldom used in foods because it fades at alkali pH. Its use in snacks and candies may evoke a hyperactivity reaction.
Red #40 is an azo dye, meaning that it contains two nitrogens. It’s also known as allura red or E129. Originally made from coal tar, red #40 is now made from petroleum. Isn’t that a comfort? Contrary to popular misconception, it is not made from insects. Carmine is, made from the female cochineal insect, whose body is dried and pulverized or otherwise processed. From intensive European studies it was concluded that behavioral anomalies in children arise especially when the blues and the reds are combined with benzoate preservatives. (McCann. 2007) Red #3 is called erythrosine, E127, and is not that common in the U.S., having been replaced by #40. Number 3 was found to be a potent inhibitor of a substance that blocks and destroys cancer cells, named tumor necrosis factor. So, while some research says it may not directly cause cancer, red #3 interferes with the body’s protection against it, while simultaneously showing cytotoxicity, particularly to breast tissue. (Ganesan. 2011) (Dees. 1997)
Why take the chance when there are natural colorants? Read the labels. Sweets and sports drinks, blueberry muffins and cereals with “fruits,” yogurt and canned icing could give you more than you bargained for. Caramel coloring from sugar, annatto red-orange from achiote, chlorophyll green, turmeric yellow, paprika red, elderberry purple, butterfly pea blue, beet red, and blue from red cabbage are real.
Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Bode Matz PC; Attorneys at Law; Suite 400; 1400 Sixteenth Street, NW; Washington, D.C. 20036 www.ofwlaw.com
Sasaki YF, Kawaguchi S, Kamaya A, Ohshita M, Kabasawa K, Iwama K, Taniguchi K, Tsuda S
The comet assay with 8 mouse organs: results with 39 currently used food additives.
Mutat Res. 2002 Aug 26;519(1-2):103-19.
Tsuda S, Murakami M, Matsusaka N, Kano K, Taniguchi K, Sasaki YF.
DNA damage induced by red food dyes orally administered to pregnant and male mice.
Toxicol Sci. 2001 May;61(1):92-9.
Kashanian S, Zeidali SH.
DNA binding studies of tartrazine food additive.
DNA Cell Biol. 2011 Jul;30(7):499-505.
McCann D, Barrett A, Cooper A, Crumpler D, Dalen L, Grimshaw K, Kitchin E, Lok K, Porteous L, Prince E, Sonuga-Barke E, Warner JO, Stevenson J.
Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial.
Lancet. 2007 Nov 3;370(9598):1560-7.
Ganesan L, Margolles-Clark E, Song Y, Buchwald P.
The food colorant erythrosine is a promiscuous protein-protein interaction inhibitor.
Biochem Pharmacol. 2011 Mar 15;81(6):810-8.
Dees C, Askari M, Garrett S, Gehrs K, Henley D, Ardies CM.
Estrogenic and DNA-damaging activity of Red No. 3 in human breast cancer cells.
Environ Health Perspect. 1997 Apr;105 Suppl 3:625-32.
Shimada C, Kano K, Sasaki YF, Sato I, Tsudua S.
Differential colon DNA damage induced by azo food additives between rats and mice.
J Toxicol Sci. 2010 Aug;35(4):547-54.
Allergic contact dermatitis from carmine.
Dermatitis. 2009 Oct;20(5):292-5.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.