Home » About Us » Blog » Seeing Red: One Mother (A Medical Writer) Investigates Food Dyes

    Seeing Red: One Mother (A Medical Writer) Investigates Food Dyes

    October 4, 2013 •  91 comments.

     •  Blog, News

    Written by Amy Kilgore, a medical writer and healthcare public relations specialist who has a daughter with extreme sensitivity to dyes, for AllergyKids

    My daughter was two, and I was seeing red. A lot of red.

    I wasn’t angry. I was horrified. I had just discovered that the rash my toddler would get after certain candies was not in fact caused by chocolate, that the hyperactivity was not from too much sugar, that her uncontrollable bouts of crying and angry behavior were not because I was doing a lousy job of being a mom.

    My little girl Monica was reacting to food dyes. Most specifically, Red 40 and Yellow 5. I can’t recall which friend suggested it and what exact moment I realized it, but by the time she was two I was certain. I had (painfully) tested my theory by giving her things with red and yellow food dyes and logging the reactions. Yellow: rash, hyperactivity, trouble sleeping. Red: hyperactivity, followed by (really) mean behavior, followed by shaking and crying; trouble sleeping. It was exhausting and heartbreaking to witness her little body’s reaction when invaded by these dangerous and unnatural additives.

    Even more frightening was the realization of how many foods contain dyes.

    I’ll never forget one specific call from my mom. She was watching Monica, her firstborn grandbaby, for the day while I worked from home and caught up with life. I was putting clothes in the dryer when the phone rang. I could hear her concern in “Hi.” Followed by, “What has happened to our sweet girl?”

    Mom explained how Monica had been behaving – not listening, running around wildly, screaming, crying. I told her that the day before had been a bit trying as well. But we were perplexed, because we were so very careful with keeping her diet dye-free and had been the only ones feeding her for days.

    Then my mom, a registered nurse, gasped. “Omigosh. Her antibiotic is pink. You don’t think…?” I called the pharmacy. Yep, the liquid antibiotic we were giving Monica to treat an ear infection had Red 40. I had dosed her twice a day for four days with Red 40! Several calls to the pediatrician and pharmacy resulted in a prescription for an antibiotic without any artificial coloring, a note in Monica’s chart and pharmacy file, and a little girl who within a day was calm, cool and collected (albeit exhausted).

    I needed to know more about food dyes, and Mom and I dove into researching how and why they could “flip the switch” in Monica and, I assumed, most children. The more I learned, the sadder I felt for our children. Not only are food dyes causing hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, aggressiveness, sleep problems, increased symptoms of autism and ADHD, among many others, but they are known carcinogens. They cause cancer.

    Here’s some food for thought from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

    “Back in 1985, the acting commissioner of the FDA said that Red 3, one of the lesser-used dyes, “has clearly been shown to induce cancer” and was “of greatest public health concern.” However, Secretary of Agriculture John R. Block pressed the Department of Health and Human Services not to ban the dye, and he apparently prevailed—notwithstanding the Delaney Amendment that forbids the use of in foods of cancer-causing color additives. Each year about 200,000 pounds of Red 3 are poured into such foods as Betty Crocker’s Fruit Roll-Ups and ConAgra’s Kid Cuisine frozen meals. Since 1985 more than five million pounds of the dye have been used.

    “Tests on lab animals of Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 showed signs of causing cancer or suffered from serious flaws, said the consumer group. Yellow 5 also caused mutations, an indication of possible carcinogenicity, in six of 11 tests.

    “In addition, according to the report, FDA tests show that the three most-widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are tainted with low levels of cancer-causing compounds, including benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl in Yellow 5. However, the levels actually could be far higher, because in the 1990s the FDA and Health Canada found a hundred times as much benzidine in a bound form that is released in the colon, but not detected in the routine tests of purity conducted by the FDA.”
    Source: www.cspinet.org

    Monica’s diet is completely dye-free, as are those of her little brother and my sister’s three boys. Not all five kids react the same to dyes – two react more intensely – but we still see significant behavioral reactions if they accidentally ingest food dyes, especially Red 40 and Yellow 5.

    Of course, maintaining dye-free diets becomes a great challenge once they hit school age and are not always under our watchful eyes. At the suggestion of my pediatrician, we list food dyes as an “allergy” on their medical forms. Listing as a “sensitivity” just didn’t garner the same attention and adherence to avoidance. Yet there are slip-ups, such as when a well-meaning teacher gives orange punch, saying it’s okay because it’s not red or yellow (sigh). Or when the treat handed out is a “safe” white cupcake with white frosting, yet the inside is “confetti” with pink and red candies.

    A recent incident sent the same shock through me that I had felt when I started investigating Red 40 eight years ago. I was having lunch with Monica, now age nine, at Eat’n Park. As long as we ate plain burgers and fruit for a side, Eat’n Park was one of the few restaurants I had tested and actually deemed “safe.” As a general rule, we reserve dessert as an occasional treat. That day I didn’t see any reason why Monica couldn’t have a slice of pie while I enjoyed another cup of coffee.

    We spent a long time looking over the pie menu. Lemon meringue? Nope, looked too yellow. The same with banana cream. Strawberry? Not a chance – way too red. Together we narrowed it down to apple or chocolate cream. She chose chocolate cream and was thoroughly enjoying it when I noticed the crust had a pink tint on the top where the chocolate cream was sitting, as did the white whipped cream topping where it touched the brown chocolate. I couldn’t imagine it had red dye (chocolate pie?!), but I strongly urged her not to eat any more. Much to her dismay, she stopped eating the pie about halfway through the slice.

    We had been having such a fantastic day – she’d been in such a good mood. Fast forward about one hour post-pie. She’s sitting in my car in her grandparents’ driveway, screaming at me and refusing to get out of the car because she wants to go home to change clothes. Even forceful prodding from her dad didn’t work. Exasperated, chalking it up to pre-teen hormones, I take her to change her clothes. As I’m telling her how inappropriate her behavior is and asking what in the world is wrong, she’s so busy yelling and talking angry to me she doesn’t hear a word I say. She even got so mad at one point that she hit my seat.

    Following these completely out-of-character temper tantrums and verbal lashings, she starts pacing and bouncing and can’t even stand in front of the closet long enough to focus on what clothes to change into. She can’t make even the simplest decisions and can’t stand still long enough even if she wanted to. Still not making the red dye connection (forgetting about the pie), I head to the couch to sit and ride it out.

    Monica ends up on the couch next to me, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably and asking me to make whatever is happening to her stop. Squirming and itching and rocking and crying, “Just make it stop, mom!” Finally exhausted, she lays her head on my lap in exhaustion. The whole episode lasts about an hour.

    I call my mom and share the whole incident with her. Mom asks what Monica ate, starting with the previous day. Needless to say, I had déjà vu when I got to the Eat’n Park meal (“Omigosh. The chocolate cream pie. You don’t think…?”). Sure enough, one call to Eat’n Park and a pie ingredient check proved it – the chocolate cream pie had Red 40.

    It’s certainly a challenge to avoid these dyes and many of the food preservatives I now don’t let anywhere near our mouths. I have a significant number of food allergies and have become very well educated on eating “clean” (whole, natural, organic), so I’m sure it’s easier for me to stay focused on living this way. But we absolutely cannot continue to ingest these dyes, especially children. If we could eliminate these dyes from our foods and our bodies, I am completely convinced that cancer prevalence would lower as well as the occurrence of ADHD and autism, among other cognitive, behavioral and emotional disturbances. The world would seriously be a better, much healthier place.

    Amy Kilgore is a medical writer and public relations specialist in Akron, Ohio, and mom to Monica and Chase. Living on a restricted diet for the past 15 years due to multiple food allergies, Amy is strongly dedicated to whole, natural and healthy eating as well as providing education and sharing experiences about the ill effects of processed food, additives and dyes.

      91 Responses to “Seeing Red: One Mother (A Medical Writer) Investigates Food Dyes”

      1. Vicki Takacs

        Oh yes here is another idea. Divide emails of companies that use it among you and send them all emails of what happened to your children. Everyone look up so many, email each other the addys, then just copy and paste tons of complaints! Or phone numbers but I believe emails would be best. Be sure to always get the names of any individuals who respond and post them. You can also go to the grocery store, load up your cart with ALL items containing the dyes, and then ask the cashier if it’s in there, then say you don’t want it, then they have to restock the items. Could have someone film and YouTube it.

      2. My daughter gets a huge red hive on her lip when she drinks red or purple powerade. Can anyone explain this?

        • I would test red dyes, and purple dyes. Have her eat some things with red and purple dye to test it.

        • Oh! And some people just acquire the allergy, that’s what happened to me, I’m only 13.

      3. Erick

        I am a healthy male, 43, AF Vet… I just realized I get intolerable migraine sized headaches after eating my kid’s leftover Fruit Roll-ups with Red -40. At 1st I thought sinus (would be news to me) headaches, but the specific sinus or other hradache symptoms just didn’t match and I’m often out of commission for 8hrs like a bad Fruit Roll-up drug dosage.

      4. Cassandra Menne

        My sons had much the same reactions to the 102 series of colourings

      5. Sydney Burdick

        Hi, I’m Sydney and I’m 12since my parents and I could remember, I have had severe reactions to ref dye anything red in generally.chest and face blotches, hard time breathing, concentrating, sleeping.god help me.

      6. Hey, I’m Elizabeth Neal, 13 years old. I figured I had a red dye allergy. It sucks. I mean I don’t have a terrible reaction to it, but it sucks. I break out in red blotches that looks sort of like hives. I usually get them on my arms, neck, and face. Kids at school were no help they would taunt me. Kids at school asked me,”want a fruit roll up?” And once more people figured out one kid said, “I’m going to bring red velvet cake for my birthday.” They were really mean. But my teacher Mrs. Boes had a red dye allergy and she claimed to grow out of it? I’m not sure, but I hope I will grow out of it. Watching what I have to eat really sucks. I cried because the red blotches itched and they were hot. But you get used to watchin what you consume. It gets better:)

      7. Shane Carlson

        We brought home Haribo gummy bears from Germany and they use only natural dyes, but marketed in the U.S. the dyes for Haribo gummy bears are all synthetic. We can rise up and change this situation and rid the food system of synthetic dye in food. Germany did.

      8. beth

        My husband lost his spleen due to motorcycle wreck . Since the wreck he breaks out when he eats some things… we have just in the last few months figured out red dye is the cause ! There is also a chemical that is used as a preservative that causes him to break out.

      9. It’s hard to find your posts in google. I found it on 15 spot,
        you should build quality backlinks , it will help you
        to rank to google top 10. I know how to help you, just search in google – k2 seo tips

      10. Pam

        My 4 year old grandson has been struggling with severe stomach pains for 3 weeks. After 3 visits to e.r.was diagnosed with functional abdominal pain disorder. A name for “we dont know why he is in pain but nothing is wrong.” Today after eating a red popsycle, it dawned on me. Red dye! He cried himself to sleep after eating that. But why is it bothering him now and not a year ago? Im reading the ingredients alot closer from now on.

      11. Laura

        I have a 9 year old son who has severe behavioral and emotional reactions to red dye. We have essentially eliminated it from our family’s diet. I get dye free candy from Naturalcandy.com for the holidays and thankfully our NY schools have forbidden foods for birthdays and holidays in school due to allergies and obesity. It is insane to me that these dyes are outlawed in Europe but allowed here, as doctors sigh and say they have no idea why autism and ADHD are so prevalent now. We have to go back to our grandparents’ diets and just eat REAL FOOD!

      12. Finally i quit my regular job, now i earn a lot of money on-line you should try too,
        just search in google – bluehand roulette system

      13. Dan

        These companies have poisoned us for far too long. The medical industry, the legal industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the food industry……they’re all in on it together. The food industry poisons us, we get sick, go to the doctor and get diagnosed with some made-up illness. Then, the doctor prescribes medications which are laced with more toxins, which makes us even more sick with something else, so they prescribe something for the next illness. After realizing what made us sick, we then might contact a lawyer (which lines their pockets), and we might win some money. However, the company we are suing already knows what they have is poison, and they factor lawsuits into their accounting books. They weigh the plus/minus and realize that even after being sued, the still make billions. It’s simply an expense of doing buisiness.

        With that said, we need to blast the Facebook pages of these companies that put poisons in our food. Advertise all of the links on your Facebook page, and let the company know you’re doing this. Money talks, and the companies will change if enough people stop buying their poison.

      14. Jaimey

        I have to say I am so thankful you have put your story out there for us all to see, thank you thank you! I am an RN, self-professed closet hippie, who is seriously OCD on making sure my family eats as much fresh non-GMO local certified organic food as possible, visit farmers markets, grow some of our own foods and teach our 3 yr old son what real food is and how to be a wholisticly balanced being in kid terms when possible. All products purchased are by me and researched, yes I am a control freak too. Mostly I am horrified at the allergic reactions my son has had to Dairy, and is having with his behavior currently with most likely food dyes. It’s the only thing I can think of. I will be testing it methodically soon, more likely just eliminating all dyes and calling them allergies. When I worked in the hospital I hated that we used Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo because they hadn’t changed it to the new safer formulation yet, like they have been forced to use internationally for a while now. It does work. Internationally they say, we won’t use your product with these ingredients. Phase them out by this date or we pull them from our shelves. It’s magic. If the US would just follow suit, we would definitely see a decline in these adverse outcomes.

      15. Christy

        I’m beginning to think my 8 year old son is allergic to food dyes, possibly blue. He has had a “strange feeling” when he urinates, but not all the time. We have taken him to the pediatrician and urologist, done sonograms, at found nothing. That’s the good news, but he still has issues sometimes. I have a hunch that he’s allergic to a food dye and when he urinates, it can be irritating for him. One day at the movies he slurped up a Blue Icey and within 30 minutes he was having bathroom issues again. We already know he has major environmental allergies. My question: Is there a test for a food dye allergy? Or does one just have to go through the elimination process?

      16. Tanya Lee

        I’m reading your blog on the dyes as I am awake at 11:15 due to severe heartburn. I’m 42 and the allergy came on suddenly about 5 years ago. I thought it was just to Red 40, but now I think I’ll have to add Yellow 5 to my list of things to avoid. Had some country time lemonade with dinner. Thanks to you I looked for that. How can we get them to stop using dyes in everything we eat?

      Leave a Reply