Are Food Dyes Getting You Sick?

Scientific studies and clinical trials on the health effects of synthetic food coloring, including coal tar food dyes, are plentiful and have been conducted both outside and inside the U.S. for over 70 years.  Among the synthetic food dyes that scientific studies have demonstrated links with adverse health consequences are FD&C Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Caramel coloring, Red 2, Red 3 and Red 40.  In more recent years, the “white coloring” food additive and nanoparticle Titanium Dioxide (found in dairy products, snacks, pastries, candies and many other processed foods) has seen an uptick in scientific investigations–particularly as it effects the human digestive system and is thought to trigger or worsen IBD, colitis and other problems. (source)

In U.S. processed foods these synthetic and industrialized food dyes are highly prominent.  A recent review of the empirical studies on food dyes revealed:  “The food industry dumps over 15 million pounds of the dyes studied into the food supply each year. Three of the dyes carry known carcinogens, and four can cause serious allergic reactions in some consumers. New studies show that seven of these food dyes contributed to cancer in lab animals, including brain and testicular tumors, colon cancer, and mutations”.   A 2014 report released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that at least 96 percent of children aged 2-5 years are exposed to synthetic food dyes Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Blue 1. (source)

food chemicals-food dye penguin-YELLOW 5-tartrazine

One Food Dye Stands Out: The Trouble with Tartrazine

According to the research findings, one of the most problematic coal tar food dyes is Yellow Dye 5 (Tartrazine). FD&C Yellow Dye 5 (Tartrazine) is widely used in U.S. processed foods and can be commonly found in breakfast cereals, snack foods, candies, sodas, sports drinks, sauces, dips, salad dressings, pickles, pepperoncini, baked goods, pastry, pie crusts, cookies, prepared boxed and frozen meals, and condiments, among many others.  This dye is also commonly found in conventional, catered and fast food restaurant items, a variety of personal care products such as mouthwash, vitamins, and over-the-counter medicines and prescription drugs. It may also be in pet food. (source)

Over seven decades of scientific, empirical studies and clinical trials on humans have linked this dye to numerous adverse health outcomes and as leading to a particular problem for those with asthma and aspirin intolerance (salyicalate intolerance).  More specifically, Yellow 5 dye/Tartrazine has been linked in empirical studies and clinical trials to respiratory problems, bronchospasms and asthma, urticaria/skin reactions, anaphylactic shock, irritability, restlessness, and insomnia/sleep disturbances, and behavioral problems in children, including ADHD and learning difficulties. (source)

Animal studies have found a link with Tartrazine and generalized toxicity/genotoxicity, as well as adverse immunosuppressive effects.  Clinical trials have suggested a link between Yellow Dye 5/Tartrazine and hyperactivity disorders/ADHD symptoms and learning difficulties in children, especially when combined with the preservative sodium benzoate. (source)

Yellow 5/Tartrazine causes the most allergic and intolerance reactions of all azo dyes. Decades of clinical and consumer reports also reveal a litany of adverse reactions to Yellow 5 dye including allergies, asthma, breathing difficulties, feelings of suffocation, skin reactions including urticaria (hives), itching, swelling/edema/fluid retention (and subsequent weight gain), blurred vision, swollen lymph nodes, earaches, headaches, migraines, difficulty concentrating, depression, anxiousness, anxiety, irritability, general weakness, rhinitis, sinus problems, heat waves, restlessness, sleep disturbances/insomnia, cancer (especially thyroid tumors), sperm abnormalities, lymphomas, chromosomal damage and anaphylactic shock. (source)

The FDA’s position on Tartrazine is that it prompts only minor adverse reactions in some people. 

But U.S. consumer groups and public health agencies in some countries outside the U.S. see it differently… 

Banning Harmful Food Dyes:  Citing numerous research findings linking synthetic food dyes with serious adverse health consequences, in 2008 The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a Citizens Regulatory Petition requesting that the FDA ban these food dyes.  In March 2011 the FDA reviewed the data on several food dyes, including the link between food dyes and child hyperactivity, and again declared them safe for human consumption

But in other countries, decades of replicated and robust scientific evidence means something (plus, other countries public health regulators are not beholden to U.S. Big Food and Big Chemical corporations)…Norway and Austria have completely banned food dye Yellow 5/Tartrazine. (source)  Consumer warning label laws in Australia–the home of several robust scientific studies on the adverse health effects linked with synthetic food dyes–have caused independent grocery stores and food manufacturers to implement their own ban on synthetic food dyes. (source)  And over a decade ago the European Parliament began requiring all food and products containing Yellow 5 dye (and Yellow 6) to include warning labels for consumers.  The law goes even further to protect babies and children–Food Dye Yellow 5 (and Yellow 6) are completely banned in all food and products for infants and children. (source)

serious ethnic young woman using laptop at home

What should you do?


1-READ THE LABELS. If you have suspicions or confirmation that the coal tar food dye FD&C Yellow 5 (Tartrazine) is triggering adverse reactions for you or a family member, read the ingredients labels of everything before you put it into your grocery cart. Choose only products free of Yellow 5 food dye. It may be tricky to do at first, but there are alternative foods and products free of this additive. (Health food stores often offer such alternatives–but always read the labels because health food stores can also sell food and products containing chemicals of concern.)


2-AVOID PROCESSED FOODS and RESTAURANT FOOD. If you want to avoid synthetic food dyes (and other unwanted additives) minimize consumption of processed food (especially highly processed foods) and eating out at both fast food and conventional restaurants. Prepare your own meals, drinks, desserts and snack yourself using fresh, whole ingredients (organic where possible).


3-WATCH PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS, OTC MEDS and Rx DRUGS.  Yellow Dye 5 can make an appearance in mouthwash, toothpaste, over-the-counter medications, vitamins and prescription drugs, among other products. Be sure to always read the ingredients on the package and inserts.


4-EDUCATE YOURSELF.  You can learn more about the findings from scientific studies on synthetic food dyes and other additives by going to our blog, scrolling to the bottom, and entering the additive name in the search box. You can also contact us and we will do a search of the scientific studies in our database and email you the links.


⇒ You can watch our video on Yellow 5 food dye/Tartrazine (“Puke Yellow”) here.

Video pic Puke Yellow-Yellow Food Dye CFL

You can read more about the findings of scientific studies linking adverse health outcomes to synthetic food dyes here:

CFL PAPER SERIES–Synthetic Food Dyes and the Link with Serious Health Consequences-Research paper

⇒You can get our book “The Food Hacker’s Handbook: A Guide to Breaking the Processed Foods and Additives Addiction” hereThis user-friendly book reveals the scientific findings of food additives linked with adverse health conditions (like food dye Yellow 5/Tartrazine) and tells you where they are hiding.

Food Hacker BOOKCOVER-CFLGet the Book