Do artificial food colors
It all started back in the mid 1960s, when then little known
San Francisco allergist, doctor Ben Feingold, through his
practice, became aware of the link between
food additives -
particularly artificial food coloring agents - and so called
hyperkinetic behavior, or hyperactivity, often associated with
irritability, and difficulty to concentrate.
agents also seemed to be directly implicated in causing allergic
reactions - such as hives, skin lesions, respiratory and
gastrointestinal symptoms, even skeletal disorders - in
In the following years, results of a number of trials
carried out by Feingold, including some 1,200 cases, confirmed the link.
However, many other studies up to this day have failed to come to a
common conclusion. This created a limbo to this day, with the general
public - including parents - inclined to think that food additives do
affect children's behavior, while organized medicine generally denying it.
The later opinion is shared by the government's
regulative agency (FDA), and - needless
to say - by food manufacturers.
Not surprisingly, recent initiative by the Center for
Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit consumer advocacy
group, asking the FDA to require warning label on colored foods
or - preferably - ban artificial colors altogether, haven't
gotten worm reception by the agency. It keeps arguing that there
is no reliable study confirming the alleged adverse effect of
food coloring agents, and that color additives undergo safety
reviews prior to approval.
Is it really so plain and simple?
Not at all. A number of researchers after Feingold did find
clear correlation between ingesting artificial food colors -
among other food additives - and adverse changes in behavior,
including hyperactivity. The most recent study on 277
three-year-olds, the largest controlled study of this type to
date (Bateman at al., 2004), has concluded that there is
effect of food additives
(20mg of artificial food colorings and
45mg sodium benzoate daily) on children's behavior in all four
groups: those with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity
disorder), with allergies, with both and with neither
That is, the adverse effect is significant according to
parents' reports, but not according to the parallel clinical test
assessments, based on inattention or impulsivity while playing
computer games. Such division in the opinion between parents and
medical professional is rather typical. Noting that neither
parents nor those conducting clinical testing knew when the
children are in active (receiving additives) or placebo periods,
the choice of tool for the clinical assessment doesn't seem to
be very wise, or efficient, in this particular case.
The study prompted move for a review and new regulations for
food additives in Britain, but Britain's FDA equivalent, Food
Standard Agency, wasn't receptive. Similarly to the FDA, they
want more studies that would reproduce similar results, pointing
out that food additives are subject to "strict safety checks
before they can be used in foods".
One has to wonder what is it that makes food coloring agents
so precious in the eyes of government agencies entrusted with
protecting public health and wellbeing? There is absolutely no
benefit for the consumer from their use; their only purpose is
to make foods visually more attractive, thus to boost food
manufacturer's profit. Why is it that the agencies so stubbornly
insist to be given ever more evidence of their adverse effects?
Well, it is not just about artificial food
colors. The Bateman study plunged right into the "no-no"
territory by implicating other types of food additives
(specifically preservatives) as causing adverse health effects
The thing is, any significant restriction in use of all food additives would be too big - or
should we say too expensive - a pill for food industry to
swallow. It is not necessarily about special interests stepping
in; but it is about the interest of protecting economic prosperity
spilling over to where it is not supposed to:
in the public health protection domain.
There are the reasons why some studies have not confirmed
link between artificial food colorings - and other food
additives - and adverse changes in behavior, or allergic
reactions. It is not a secret. Most of those
were the U.S. studies financed by the Nutrition Foundation,
an organization financially linked to major food manufacturers.
study cited as negating Feingold's results (C. K. Conners) used
chocolate cookies as placebo (majority of hyperactive children
react on chocolate and other ingredients present in these
cookies, like milk, sugar,
wheat, food additives), had unrealistically low doses of mixed
food dyes (13mg twice daily, despite FDA's estimate that the
average daily intake for 5-12 year old was 76.5mg a day, with
the maximum consumption exceeding 300mg/day), too long dose
intervals, inadequate rating scales7
and interpreted positive data as negative (i.e. "no effect") by setting
unrealistic standards - or simply
Similarly biased designs were rather common in other studies that
had direct or indirect financial link to food industry.
On the other hand, majority of studies outside the U.S. have
overwhelming evidence in support of Feingold' hypothesis,
that food additives, among other chemical agents (natural
salicylates, artificial flavors, phenolic compounds in general),
do cause hyperkinetic behavior,
as well as other adverse health
effects, particularly in children.
That said, there are some objective difficulties
in evaluating these effects, that can also compromise
reliability of the results. They include: (1) often hard to control compliance
with children participants, (2) great chemical complexity of our bodies, (3) often unpredictable
and (4) individual variations to a specific stimulus.
Experiments on animals, while not directly correlated to
humans, also clearly show that food additives are capable of
adversely affecting their behavior, broader neurologic function
and pathology. Test tube studies have shown food dyes to be damaging
As for claimed "safety review" of food additives by the FDA
prior to their approval, it
does not address their possible behavioral,
Their screening of toxicity tests by
manufacturers - and those very tests themselves - are limited to
harm to major body organs - primarily liver - or tissues, and
possible carcinogenic properties. There is no testing - nor
screening - for behavioral,
long-term, or other forms of toxicity whatsoever. It would be just
┆ NUTRITION ┆