Adverse Health Effects of Some Common Dyes
Used in Foods and/or Medications

Last update 4/10/2015


As early as 1985, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) knew these dyes were dangerous. At that time, only tartrazine (Yellow 5) was required to be listed in foods and drugs. While they did not suggest removing any of the dyes, the AAP did support listing them all, and provided a table of medications and vitamins reported to be without them (as of 1985).

Below are some possible physical effects of food dyes, reported by the AAP and others. Even if they don't affect your behavior or mood, do you want to eat them?

DYE
HEALTH EFFECTS
(For the Professional)
HEALTH EFFECTS
(For the Layman)
FD&C Blue No.1
Brilliant Blue
E 133
Bronchoconstriction [1]
Eosinophilotactic response [1]
Chromosomal damage [1]
Inhibition of mitochondrial respiration [9]
Sperm damage [13]
It's hard to breathe, asthma [1]
Allergy [1]
DNA damage - can cause cancer [1]
Energy factories in your cells stop working [9]
Sperm damage [13]
FD&C Blue No.2
Indigo Carmine
E 132
Bronchoconstriction [1]
Hypotension or hypertension [7]
It's hard to breathe, asthma [1]
Blood pressure goes too high or too low [7]
FD&C Red No.2
Amaranth
E 123
not allowed in U.S.
Angioedema [1]
Pruritus [1]
Urticaria [1]
Bronchoconstriction [1]
Inhibition of mitochondrial respiration [9]
Genotoxic [14][15]
Rapid swelling of deep tissue (hives) [1]
Itching [1]
Rash of round red itchy spots [1]
It's hard to breathe, asthma [1]
Energy factories in your cells (mitochondria) stop working [9]
Damages to the DNA causing mutations [14][15]
FD&C Red No.3
Erythrosine
E 127
Bronchoconstriction[1]
Elevation of protein-bound iodide [1]
Thyroid tumors [5][6]
Chromosomal damage [6]
immune system inhibition [6]
Genotoxic [15]
Mitochondrial respiration inhibition [9]
Attacks drug metabolizing enzymes [11]
It's hard to breathe, asthma [1]
Too much iodine [1]
Tumors in the thyroid gland which controls energy [5][6]
DNA damage - can cause cancer [6]
Hurts your immune system [6]
DNA damage... causes mutation [15]
Energy factories in your cells (mitochondria) stop working [9]
Causes rough skin if used in cosmetics exposed to light [11]
FD&C Red No.4
Ponceau
E 124 Europe
not allowed in U.S.
Bronchoconstriction[1]
Chest heaviness[1]
Inhibition of mitochondrial respiration[9]
It's hard to breathe, asthma [1]
Chest heaviness [1]
Energy factories in your cells (mitochondria) stop working [9]
FD&C Red No.40
Allura Red
E 129
In rats: Lower brain weight [4]
In rats: Lower reproduction[4]
In rats: Lower survival[4]
Behavioral toxicity[4]
Inhibition of mitochondrial respiration[9]
Genotoxic[14] [15]
The rats eating Red 40 had smaller brains [4]
The rats eating Red 40 had less babies [4]
The rats eating Red 40 were more likely to die [4]
The rats eating Red 40 had behavioral changes [4]
Energy factories in your cells (mitochondria) stop working [9]
Damage to DNA causing mutations [14] [15]
FD&C Yellow No.5
Tartrazine
E 102
Asthma, bronchospasm [1]
Increased bronchial reactivity [1]
Angioedema [1]
Urticaria [1]
Eczema [17]
Allergic reactions [1]
Genotoxic [15]
Inhibition of mitochondrial respiration [9]
Xenoestrogen [10]
Behavioral, mood, & sleep changes [16][17]
Overactive / aggressive behavior [17]
It's hard to breathe, asthma [1]
Asthma [1]
Swelling of deep tissues [1]
Hives, rashes [1]
Eczema [17]
Allergic reactions [1]
Damages to DNA [15]
Energy factories in body cells (mitochondria) stop working [9]
Yellow 5 acts like a female hormone and may cause liver disease after long use [10]
Behavioral, mood, & sleep changes [16][17]
Overactive / aggressive behavior [17]
FD&C Yellow No.6
Sunset Yellow
E 110
Urticaria [1]
Eczema [17]
Rhinitis [1]
Nasal congestion[1]
Bronchoconstriction[1][17]
Eosinophilotactic response [1]
Purpura [1]
Chromosomal damage, DNA fragmentation[12]
Sperm damage[12] [13]
Abdominal pain[1], Vomiting[1], Indigestion[1]
Distaste for food[1]
Elevated liver enzymes (reduced by brocolli or beets)[8]
Elevated serum creatinine and urea [8]
Elevated triglyceride levels[8]
Suppressed glutathione and superoxide dismutase enzyme levels[8]
Inhibition of mitochondrial respiration[9]
Xenoestrogen [10]
Mood changes, aggression, overactivity [17]
Hives, rash [1]
Eczema [17]
Runny nose [1]
Stuffy nose [1]
It's hard to breathe, asthma [1][17]
Allergy [1]
Bruising [1]
Broken or damaged genes, may lead to cancer [12]
Sperm damage[12] [13]
Indigestion[1]. stomach pain[1], vomiting[1],
Dislike of food, picky eating [1]
Liver damage (prevented by brocolli or beets) [8]
Kidney damage [8]
High triglycerides (like high cholesterol, this can increase risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes) [8]
These are an important antioxidant and enzyme that prevent cellular damage. Yellow 6 interferes with them. [8]
Energy factories in body cells (mitochondria) stop working [9]
Yellow 6 acts like a female hormone and may cause liver disease after long use [10]
Mood changes, aggression, overactivity [17]
D&C Yellow 10
Quinoline Yellow
E 104 Europe
Contact dermatitis[1] Skin rash [1]
D&C Yellow No.11
(contaminant in Yellow No.10)
Contact dermatitis[1]
Chromosomal changes, cancer[2] [3]
Yellow fur and feces [2][3]
Yellow kidneys and liver[2][3]
livers significantly enlarged and deteriorated[2] [3]
Skin rash [1]
DNA damage, cancer[2][3]
Fur and cage droppings turn yellow [2][3]
Internal organs turn yellow [2] [3]
Liver damage [2][3]

Sources:

  1. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs in Pediatrics in October 1985 || Get Password
  2. National Toxicology Program study on Yellow 11 (2-year study) (blue)
  3. National Toxicology Program study on Yellow 11 (13-week studies in mice and rats) (blue)
  4. Developmental toxicity and psychotoxicity of FD&C Red Dye No.40 in rats, Vorhees et al., Toxicology. 1983;28(3):207-17.
  5. Effects of oral erythrosine (2',4',5',7'-tetraiodofluorescein) on the pituitary-thyroid axis in rats, Jennings et al., Toxicology & Applied Pharmacology. 1990 May;103(3):549-56.
  6. Genotoxic and mutagenic effects of erythrosine B, a xanthene food dye, on HepG2 cells, Chequer et al., 2012. food and Chemical Toxicology, 50 (2012) 34473451.
  7. Profound hypotension after an intradermal injection of indigo carmine for sentinel node mapping, Jo et al., Journal of Breast Cancer. 2013 Mar;16(1):127-8
  8. Biochemical and molecular studies on the possible influence of the Brassica oleracea and Beta vulgaris extracts to mitigate the effect of food preservatives and food chemical colorants on albino rats, Sarhan et al., Saudi Journal of Biological Sciiences, 2014 Sep;21(4):342-54.
  9. Effect of organic synthetic food colours on mitochondrial respiration., Reyes et al., Food Addit Contam. 1996 Jan;13(1):5-11.
  10. Tartrazine and sunset yellow are xenoestrogens in a new screening assay to identify modulators of human oestrogen receptor transcriptional activity. Axon et al. Toxicology. 2012 Aug 16;298(1-3):40-51.
  11. Toxicity of xanthene food dyes by inhibition of human drug-metabolizing enzymes in a noncompetitive manner. Mizutani, Journal of Environmental & Public Health. 2009;2009:953952
  12. The modifying effect of selenium and vitamins A, C, and E on the genotoxicity induced by sunset yellow in male mice. Sayed et al., Mutation Research, 2012 May 15;744(2):145-53.
  13. DNA damage in human germ cell exposed to the some food additives in vitro., Pandir, Cytotechnology. 2014 doi: 10.1007/s10616-014-9824-y Full Text | Get Password
  14. Genotoxicity assessment of amaranth and allura red using Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Jabeen et al., Bulletin of Environmental Contamination & Toxicology. 2013 Jan;90(1):22-6. Full Text | Get Password
  15. The comet assay with 8 mouse organs: results with 39 currently used food additives. Sasaki et al., Mutation Research. 2002 Aug 26;519(1-2):103-19. Full Text | Get Password
  16. Synthetic food coloring and behavior: a dose response effect in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, repeated-measures study. Rowe, Journal of Pediatrics, 1994 Nov;125(5 Pt 1):691-8. Full Text | Get Password
  17. Assessment of chemical factors in relation to child hyperactivity. Ward, Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine, 7 (4). 1997. 333-342. Full Text | Get Password