Monday, May 16, 2016

Real Deal #20: Why Artificial Food Dyes Are Hazardous to Your Health

"Rumors began circulating about tartrazine in the 1990s regarding a link to its consumption (specifically its use in Mountain Dew) and adverse effects on male potency, testicle and penis size, and sperm count. There are no documented cases supporting the claim tartrazine will shrink a man's penis or cause it to stop growing. Although tartrazine is one of various food colors said to cause food intolerance and ADHD-like behavior in children, evidence for this claim is lacking. It is possible that certain food colorings may act as a trigger in those who are genetically predisposed, but the evidence is weak."


For centuries, we've used natural dye from natural ingredients to color food, clothing, and other products. Around the turn of the 20th century, scientists began formulating synthetic colors, derived from coal tar and other alternatives. This was done in order to reduce costs and avoid possible toxins in some of the natural compounds, such as mercury, copper or arsenic.

However, the safety of this technique has come into question. These synthetic ingredients have been proven to have their own slew of problems. Some claim that these dyes are toxic – possibly toxic enough to cause cancer. While some dyes have been banned from use in the United States, seven dyes remain on the FDA’s approved list for use in the United States. These food dyes include Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Green No. 3, Red No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6.

According to the International Association of Color Manufacturers, a trade association for food dye makers and users, artificial color additives enhance and correct natural colors and “provide a colorful identity to foods that would otherwise be virtually colorless,” as well as compensating for natural color loss during storage and providing a way to quickly identify pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements.4 Food dye consumption per person has increased fivefold in the United States since 1955, with three dyes—Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6—accounting for 90% of the dyes used in foods.


Claim:   Drinking Mountain Dew brand soda causes one's testicles to shrink.

Status:   False.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 1997]

Origins:   Wild Mountain Dew rumors like the ones quoted above about a popular brand of lemon-lime soda have been circulating for several years now. The first clue to its questionable veracity is the variety of reported effects: Drinking Mountain Dew will shrink your testicles. Or decrease your sperm count. Or cause your penis to grow smaller. Well, whatever occurs, it only happens to guys, and it hits them below the belt, right? Sounds a lot like the early 1990s legend that claimed Tropical Fantasy brand soft drinks contained a "secret ingredient" to cause sterility in black male drinkers, doesn't it?

These rumors are primarily spread about PepsiCo's Mountain Dew soft drink, although it has also been told about Mello Yello (a Coca-Cola product which, though still available, has been supplanted by Surge). The key factor is the presence of a dye called Yellow No. 5 in these drinks (presumably in large quantities), a food coloring that allegedly has nasty effects on one's manhood.

"But others banked on the rumors being true: they doubled down on the Dew, thinking it would function as a contraceptive. It's impossible to say how many, if any, couples relied solely on Mountain Dew for birth control. But it was enough of an issue that the Wall Street Journal ran an article about it, as did a number of city and university newspapers. Dear Abby even warned her readers not to rely on the soft drink to prevent pregnancy."

Yellow No. 5, also known as tartrazine, is an FD&C (i.e., approved for use in food, drugs, and cosmetics) coloring dye commonly used to give various foods (such as beverages, candy, and ice cream) a bright lemon yellow color. It has long been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration. It has also been in use since 1916, so if it were shrinking penises and testicles, we'd probably have heard something more than rumors about it by now. (The FDA's established acceptable daily intake [ADI] for tartrazine is 5.0 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, which is about .01 ounces for a 132-pound person.) Many other common food products contain Yellow No. 5 as well, so more than just Mountain Dew drinkers would notice the effect if it were real. (Soft drinks don't contain a significantly larger amount of Yellow No. 5 than other food products.)

The FDA has required since 1979 that food and drugs containing Yellow No. 5 be labeled to indicate its presence (and the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires similar labeling for meat and poultry), but that requirement came about because tartrazine was found to be associated with a variety of allergic type reactions in sensitive people, not because it wreaked havoc with the male reproductive system.

If you're male and drink a lot of Mountain Dew, you will notice one related but perfectly harmless side effect: quite a bit of yellow liquid will flow out of your penis.

Last updated:   31 December 2005 

"The Food Standards Agency, an independent government agency in Great Britain, released research that suggested a link between hyperactivity in some children and certain food coloring. Starting July 2010 in the European Union, food containing some of these dyes carry additional warning labels indicating possible adverse effects on 'activity and attention in children.' No such warning requirement exists in the United States, although tartrazine (or Yellow No. 5) is always identified on ingredients lists when used in packaged foods, for the sake of the estimated 1 in 10,000 people who suffer allergic reactions to the chemical."
Live Strong:
Yellow 5 is also known as tartrazine or E102. Yellow 5 is widely used in the making of potato chips, jams, candy, drinks and even pet food. It is also added to shampoo and other cosmetic products, as well as vitamins and certain medications. Yellow 5 is banned in Austria and Norway, and other European countries have issued warnings about their possible side effects. It is still freely and extensively used in the US, however.


The April 1, 2013 Code of Federal Regulations declare label statements for Yellow 5 must include a warning statement that the color additive may cause allergic reactions, such as asthma. The label can state the low rate of sensitivity related to tartrazine, but must note its prevalence in patients with aspirin hypersensitivity. The strong connection between sensitivity to Yellow 5 and aspirin is presented in multiple studies. A case study published in the June 2006 issue of “Allergology International,” reported multiple chemical sensitivities in a 5-year-old girl. Colorful sweets such as candies and jellybeans triggered her symptoms. Researchers discovered the patient suffered from sensitivity to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, and tartrazine, an azo dye.


Yellow 5 seems to cause hyperactivity in some children. The Food Standards Agency, FSA, which is UK’s equivalent to the FDA, issued a warning in 2008 about certain food colorings. The warning said that certain colorings, including tartrazine, can cause behavioral changes in children that included loss of concentration and impulsive, hard-to-control activity. The recommendation is to avoid or limit consumption of products that contain yellow 5. If a child develops hyperactive behavior, try eliminating this coloring from the diet and pay attention to the changes that follow.

"If tartrazine's effect on hyperactivity remains unsolved, at least it's clear that it has no effect on sperm count, right? Not so fast. Recently, two small studies in mice — one from Algeria in 2009 and one from India in 2010 — linked tartrazine intake with slightly decreased sperm production. It remains to be seen whether those results will stand up to further scrutiny, or apply to people."

Risk of Cancer

In their summary of studies on food dyes, the Center for Science in the Public Interest reports earlier studies that failed to show cancer causing or toxic effects of Yellow 5, were flawed. They did not comply with the minimum FDA standards for the age, number of animal subjects used, and some testing requirements for carcinogenic/chronic toxicity studies. In addition, the industry sponsored studies failed to use maximally tolerated dosages. CSPI determined the FDA limits for the carcinogens benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl, were inadequately tested. They failed to account for the higher consumption of Yellow 5 by children who are more sensitive to cancer-causing agents. CSPI recommends all carcinogens be removed from food dyes.

Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 contain benzidene, a human and animal carcinogen permitted in low, presumably safe levels in dyes. The FDA calculated in 1985 that ingestion of free benzidine raises the cancer risk to just under the “concern” threshold (1 cancer in 1 million people). Bound benzidene also has been detected in dyes in much greater amounts than free benzidene, but routine FDA tests measure only free contaminants, overlooking the bound moiety. Intestinal enzymes release bound benzidene, “so we could be exposed to vastly greater amounts of carcinogens than FDA’s routine tests indicate,” says Jacobson—especially considering today’s children are exposed to multiple dyes and flavoring agents and other added chemicals in foods.

Other Risks

The July 2006 issue of the “Journal of Clinical Psychiatry” published a study to determine if allergies to food or to food additives were causing intolerance to psychotropic drugs. Of the 2210 patients given drugs containing tartrazine, 83 developed allergic reactions. None of the study subjects reacted to drugs not containing tartrazine. Researchers determined, in patients exhibiting drug sensitivity, tartrazine allergy should be tested and the medications should be replaced with non-tartrazine-containing drugs. Yellow 5 has been linked to several other health problems, including blurred vision, migraines, fatigue and anxiety. It might also cause chromosomal damage, although this has not been properly studied or documented.


Food manufacturers still use plant-based colorings in some countries. For example, in the United Kingdom Fanta orange soda is colored with pumpkin and carrot extracts while the U.S. version uses Red 40 and Yellow 6. McDonald’s strawberry sundaes are colored only with strawberries in Britain, but Red 40 is used in the United States. With many U.S. consumers desiring fewer synthetic additives, “companies may be better off switching to [plant-based colors],” Jacobson says.

“Natural alternatives may present less of a risk, but I still would like to see their toxic potential assayed before we give them to kids,” says Bernard Weiss, a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester. Weiss argued 30 years ago there was evidence linking artificial food dyes to behavioral problems in children. Yet the FDA still does not require manufacturers to test dyes for developmental neurotoxicity. “Their inaction amounts to approval of an ongoing experiment with children,” Weiss says.

"After Coke discoutinued Vault (Surge 2.0), a lot of people have been petitioning for Coke to bring back Surge. It has been off of store shelves since 2001 or so, and was released in the US in 1997. It was tested in Norway in 1996, and did so well it remains there to this day! I imported a few bottles of the Norway "Urge" and it tasted just like Vault but had more of a tang taste to it, and used real sugar."
More information:
» Snopes: "Does Tropical Fantasy contain a secret ingredient that will render blacks sterile?"
» WiseGEEK: "Food Coloring: What's it made of?"
» Environmental Health Perspectives: "DIET AND NUTRITION: The Artificial Food Dye Blues"
» Mercola: "Are You or Your Family Eating Toxic Food Dyes?"
» Dr. Oz: "What's Really in Your Comfort Food?"
» Artificial Colors: Is the “Secret Shame” of the Food Industry Harming Your Children?

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