Red Dye Allergy – What is All the Controversy?

Do you know what red dye is? Yes, of course, it is a food coloring. But what else do you know about it? Do you know that there is a controversy raging around it? According to some doctors it is merely a benign additive but parents have found that their children are experiencing unhealthy results from consuming it.

So what is red dye? Red dye or Red 40 as it is commonly known is an FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved coloring that is added to a great many foods. Generally we don’t even notice that a lot of our food is artificially colored. And it is not just food; many medicines are colored as well.

How is it made? It is made from crude oil pumped out of the ground in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Why is it added? It is used in the belief that it makes food and drugs more appealing. For example, people love to eat ripe red apples, strawberries, or other red fruit. Our minds are convinced that if a food or drug is red that it may be delicious and good for us too. Quite often products in their original form may not be very appetizing and Red 40 is a very cost effective way to achieve a nice color. Something that appeals to the consumer is very important.

Is it safe? When it was first approved by the FDA there were a lot of fears that it could cause tumors and cancers. In fact one scientist cited a study that showed that an animal fed Red 40 will get very sick and a combination of Red with other colors or preservatives will kill it. It was later proven that it doesn’t cause cancer but I haven’t heard of any follow up studies proving or disproving the animal issue.

But doesn’t the FDA say it is safe? It does, but it also said Viox was safe (it causes heart attacks and strokes), and Paxil was safe (it caused increased anxiety in adolescents which led to an increased risk of suicide), and many others; all of which have been taken off the market. Remember, the FDA is a much underfunded organization. It relies on the fees it charges to test companies’ products. With this money it hires contractors and in many cases relies on the companies’ own testing procedures.

Does Red 40 cause problems in children? Many doctors insist that any change in behavior is not due to this dye. They point to the controversy about sugar. Many parents will attest that their children will become extremely hyperactive after ingesting a lot of it. These doctors have said there is no evidence that sugar has any adverse affect. And just as with sugar many parents see changes in their kids after eating a product containing Red 40. After experiencing the results some doctors are finally coming around.

Can red dye really affect children like this? According to Doctor Robert Needlman “roughly 1 in 100-who were clearly much more active and out of control” when eating an artificial diet including Red 40. But most of the evidence is anecdotal. There are many parents that can tell you what it can do to their children. I can tell you what it does to my son. He has some of the reactions that these parents describe.

What does “out of control” mean? Children can have many different reactions to Red 40 including increased temper tantrums, increased hyperactivity, aggressive behavior, uncontrollable crying and screaming, kicking, nervousness and other things that parents can attest to. Physically they may get headaches or feel sick after eating anything containing it. Adults can also feel sick or get migraines.

How can we figure out if a child has a reaction to Red 40? This is easy. Observe your child’s ordinary behavior. Does she have tantrums? Notice how violent he is. Check out any of the other “out of control” behaviors listed above. Then feed her a juice that has Red 40 in it; there are several different ones on the market. Reactions can happen within minutes. Have her usual tantrums escalated? Is he increasingly violent? Do they get sick? Needlman thinks that this kind of testing is safe. Seeing how my son reacts to it, I’m not sure I completely agree with this.

Why don’t people believe all of this? Probably because they haven’t seen any “scientific evidence” to support these problems. Most of what we read are anecdotes told by parents or people who have experienced this first hand. People’s initial reaction is to blame the parents for “poor parenting” or misreading “normal” occurrences in children. The problem is they haven’t even observed a child (or adult) reacting to Red 40. When I describe my son’s reaction to people they all tend to sneer at me until they actually see it happen to him; then they understand.

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