Dangers associated with food dyes

Synthetic food dyes are used in many processed foods, such as colored breakfast cereals, candy, and “fruit-flavored” beverages and snacks. A total of 15 million pounds of dyes are added to the U.S. food supply each year. Our consumption of food dyes has increased 5-fold since 1955 as our nation has consumed more and more packaged foods.1

Colored cereal

These synthetic dyes have been linked to a wide variety of health concerns including behavioral problems, hyperactivity, allergic reactions, and even cancers. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), an organization that advocates for nutrition and food safety, is calling for a ban on these synthetic dyes. Food-based dyes such as beet juice and turmeric are readily available, but are more expensive and often less bright, making synthetic dyes more attractive to food manufacturers.

Food dyes and allergic reactions:

Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 have been reported to cause allergic reactions in some people.

Food dyes and hyperactivity:

Food dyes are of particular concern for children, since many colored foods are marketed to children, and their smaller body size makes them more susceptible to potential toxins. Hyperactivity in children following ingestion of food dyes is well-documented in placebo-controlled studies. Furthermore, a 2004 meta-analysis of 16 studies in children who were already hyperactive showed that their hyperactive behavior increased in response to food colorings.2 In a study published in Lancet in 2007, researchers tested two different mixtures of food dyes vs. placebo in children of two age groups – one mixture increased hyperactivity in 3 year old children, and both mixtures increased hyperactivity in the 8-9 year-olds.3 This study sparked a reaction by the British government. They instructed food manufacturers to eliminate all of these synthetic dyes by the end of 2009. In fact, starting later this month, a warning notice will be required on dyed foods in Europe stating that these foods “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”4  As a result, several international food companies now produce products with food-based dyes or no dyes in the U.K., but continue to include synthetic dyes in their U.S. products.

Food dyes and cancer:

There are eight commonly used synthetic dyes in the U.S., and all have undergone toxicity and tumorigenicity testing in animals. CSPI summarized the results of cancer-related studies in a recent report1:

  • Red 3 was acknowledged by the FDA to be a carcinogen in 1985 and was banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs. However Red 3 is still used in ingested drugs and foods.
  • The three most widely used dyes (Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6) which account for 90% of dyes in the U.S. are contaminated with low levels of chemical carcinogens, as byproducts of the manufacturing process. Although the FDA places limits on the concentrations of these contaminants in the final dye products, they still may pose risks.
  • Citrus Red 2 added to the diet resulted in bladder tumors.
  • Red 3 resulted in thyroid tumors and caused DNA damage.

In their report, CSPI noted flaws in many of the animal cancer studies on Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 40, Green 3, and Blue 2, including bias – most studies were either commissioned or conducted by dye manufacturers, short duration, and lack of exposure to dyes during fetal development. Additional studies are likely needed to determine whether these dyes are safe.

The simplest and most effective way to avoid the potential harmful effects of synthetic dyes is to avoid processed foods.   Unrefined plant foods contain health promoting phytochemicals, not empty calories and synthetic additives of questionable safety. When buying the occasional packaged food, check the ingredient list to avoid synthetic dyes.


References:

1. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks. http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/food-dyes-rainbow-of-risks.pdf

2. Artificial food colouring and hyperactivity symptoms in children. Prescrire Int. 2009 Oct;18(103):215.

Schab DW, Trinh NH. Do artificial food colors promote hyperactivity in children with hyperactive syndromes? A meta-analysis of double-blind placebo-controlled trials. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2004 Dec;25(6):423-34.

3. McCann D, Barrett A, Cooper A, et al. Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2007 Nov 3;370(9598):1560-7.

4. CSPI Says Food Dyes Pose Rainbow of Risks. http://cspinet.org/new/201006291.html

Staying safe in the sun

Sunrise

The weather is warm, school is out, and summer is upon us. Because of depletion of the ozone layer that protected against harmful radiation in earlier times, today’s sun exposure is not truly natural, and is more damaging. As we plan to spend more time outdoors, we must also avoid excessive sun exposure to protect ourselves from the free radical damage and wrinkling that can ensue and to minimize the risk of skin cancer. First we should be sure to seek shade often, wear protective clothing, and avoid noon time sun. When choosing a sunscreen or sunblock is important to use the safest and most effective methods of sun protection – the SPF number does not tell the whole story.

Exposure to sunlight triggers vitamin D production. However, according to the American Academy of Dermatology there is no safe amount of unprotected UV exposure that can allow for sufficient vitamin D production without increasing the risk of skin cancer. Supplementation is the safest method of maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels.1

 

 

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has been steadily on the rise since, its prevalence increasing approximately 2.9% per year since 1981.It is essential to protect your skin from the sun’s rays.

UVA and UVB rays

UVB rays are the rays that cause sunburn. They bind DNA and can cause mutations that lead to skin cancer. UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin, causing oxidative damage that can lead to skin aging and skin cancer.3

Both types of radiation are believed to contribute to melanoma, but many sunscreens block only UVB.

Types of sun protection

  • Sunscreen absorbs and deflects the sun’s rays away from the skin through a chemical reaction. Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect against UVB and UVA rays depending on the ingredients used. Common sunscreen ingredients include oxybenzone, octisalate, and avobenzone.
  • Sunblock creates a physical barrier between the UVA and UVB rays and the skin.4 Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the most common sunblocks. Physically blocking sunlight from penetrating the skin is the most effective way to block UVA radiation.

Which type of sun protection is safer? Which is more effective?

Many sunscreens do not protect against UVA rays. The SPF listed on these products refers only to UVB protection. The FDA has no standards for measuring how well a sunscreen blocks UVA rays. Ironically, a product with a high SPF, and no UVA protection, could promote unsafe sun exposure behaviors – you may falsely believe that you can safely stay in the sun longer, overexposing yourself to UVA rays even though you avoid sunburn from the UVB rays.5

The Environmental Working Group has reported this troubling news about sunscreens: Vitamin A is often listed on sunscreen labels as an antioxidant that can fight skin aging. Vitamin A is an antioxidant, but in isolation it could be dangerous, both in supplements and for the skin. Sunscreens may actually promote the progression skin cancer if they contain vitamin A – vitamin A applied to the skin has been shown by FDA studies to accelerate the growth of skin tumors in animals.6

Sunscreens may also damage your skin. Common sunscreen ingredients can generate free radicals, causing oxidative damage. The sunscreen itself and how often it is applied determines whether it releases or absorbs more free radicals.7

Chemical sunscreen ingredients, including oxybenzone, can potentially disrupt hormonal systems in the body, which could have long-term health implications.8

In addition, a number of studies have linked allergic reactions to chemical sunscreens, particularly oxybenzone.9 Little is known about the potential harm of chronic sunscreen use and the systemically absorbed chemicals deposited after topical application.10

These sunscreen ingredients are potentially harmful and should be avoided:11

  • Oxybenzone (found in 60% of sunscreen products)
  • Octisalate (found in 58% of sunscreen products)
  • Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC; found in 40% of sunscreen products)
  • Padimate O

Mineral sunblocks contain either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, and these are preferable to chemical sunscreens. These minerals do not penetrate as deeply into the skin as chemical sunscreens. They lie on top of the skin and penetrate only into superficial layers, reflecting UV rays before they cause damage. Mineral sunblocks are the only method of sun protection that blocks UVA rays.

Nanoparticles in sunscreens

There are concerns about certain sunblock products that use small particles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide produced via nanotechnology. The purpose is to make the sunblock more easily absorbed by the skin and therefore more transparent. These tiny nanoparticles, however, can penetrate biological membranes and easily reach cells. Nanoparticles are smaller than anything humans have put into commercial products before.  Preliminary investigations have found only a limited ability of mineral nanoparticles to penetrate the skin12, but oxidative stress and DNA damage to skin cells have been observed. Also, upon inhalation these particles reach the bloodstream and several organs.11,13 Additional studies are needed in order to definitively determine whether these products are safe.

Mineral sunblock is the safest choice.

Overall, the physical sunblocks, with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are the safest choices for sun protection. They are the least irritating, and they safely provide protection against both UV-A and UV-B rays. According to the Environmental Working Group, mineral sunblocks containing nanoparticles are still a safer option than chemical sunscreens. Unfortunately, sunblock labels most often do not disclose whether the product contains nanoparticles. We've done our research and found a product-line which uses nonmicronized zinc oxide that is safe and effective. Our GreenScreen line protects against both UV-A and UV-B without the use of nanoparticles or harmful chemicals.

Remember, sun protection products must be applied liberally to insure you receive the SPF protection claimed on the label. Most people apply 25-75% less sunscreen than the amount used when the manufacturers test their products.14

Make the summer sunshine a safe, fun, and healthy experience for you and your family!

4. Levy S. "Sunscreens and Photoprotection." www.emedicine.com (accessed June 20, 2007).

5.  Autier P. Sunscreen abuse for intentional sun exposure. Br J Dermatol. 2009 Nov;161 Suppl 3:40-5.

8. Schlumpf M, Schmid P, Durrer S, et al. Endocrine activity and developmental toxicity of cosmetic UV filters--an update. Toxicology. 2004 Dec 1;205(1-2):113-22.

Schlumpf M, Cotton B, Conscience M, et al. In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Mar;109(3):239-44.

9. Szczurko C, Dompmartin, Michel M, et al. "Photocontact Allergy to Oxybenzone: 10 years of Experience." Photodermatol PhotoimmunolPhotomed 1994;10(4):144-7.

Schauder S, Ippen H. "Contact and Photocontact Sensitivity to Sunscreens: Review of a 15-year Experience and of the Literature." Contact Dermatitis 1997;37(5):221-32.

10. Hayben H, Cameron, M. Roberts H, et al. "Systemic Absorption of Sunscreen after Topical Application." The Lancet 1997;350:9081.

Gustavsson G, Farbrot A, Larko O. "Percutaneous Absorption of Benzophenone-3, a Common Component of Topical Sunscreens." ClinExp Dermatol 2002;27(8):691-4.

11. Environmental Working Group. Nanomaterials and hormone disruptors in sunscreens.

http://www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/full-report/nanomaterials-and-hormone-disruptors-in-sunscreens/

12. Filipe P, Silva JN, Silva R, et al. Stratum corneum is an effective barrier to TiO2 and ZnO nanoparticle percutaneous absorption. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2009;22(5):266-75.

13. Consumer Reports - July 2007 " Nanotechnolody Untold promise, unknown risk."

14. "Sunscreens: Some are short on protection." Consumer Reports July 2007.