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Seeing red.

I remember the shock waves that San Francisco allergist Ben Feingold sent through the country in the mid-1970s when he charged that artificial food dyes cause hyperactivity in some people.

Feingold's contention was based on observing his patients, not a study. The food industry, of course, denied that dyes cause harm. But Feingold's claims led to a flurry of research.

Between 1975 and 2000, investigators conducted some 30 clinical trials, mostly on children with behavioral disorders like ADHD or food sensitivities. They typically gave kids either a placebo or dye-filled capsules or cookies, or they eliminated certain foods from the diet to see if symptoms abated. Most of the studies found that the dyes affected some children.

Since 2000, nine major reviews of the evidence have concluded that dyes do, indeed, worsen some children's behavior.

The mounting evidence led the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Nutrition Action's publisher, to petition the FDA in 2008 to ban the use of dyes. We pointed out that dyes affect behavior, are unnecessary, and deceive consumers by simulating the presence of fruits or other natural ingredients.

In 2011, in response to our petition, the FDA commissioned an expert advisory committee. The agency acknowledged that dyes may aggravate the behavior of sensitive children, but asked the committee whether the studies had established a "causal" relationship between dyes and children in the general population. The committee recommended more research.

Meanwhile, we continue to press companies to voluntarily stop using dyes. Kudos to General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Nestle, and several others for replacing dyes with natural colorings in some of their foods.

Behavior isn't the only concern about dyes. In the 1990s, the FDA banned some uses of Red 3 because it caused cancer in animals. In addition, the agency discovered illegally high levels of a cancer-causing contaminant in two of the most widely used dyes, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. But it never pulled those dyes from the market.

It's high time that the FDA banned dyes... or at least required warning labels on dyed foods, as they do in Europe. You can find more information in our report, Seeing Red, at

Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., President

Center for Science in the Public Interest


Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.

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Title Annotation:MEMO FROM MFJ; health risks of artificial food dyes
Author:Jacobson, Michael F.
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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