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Tartrazine, the real yellow menace

IMPORTANT!

There is currently a petition at the FDA to have tartrazine BANNED in the USA! Please email your comments and experiences with this toxic substance to the US government (no matter what country you live in!)

Tartrazine (also known as "FD&C Yellow Number 5" or "E-102" in Europe) is a coal-tar derivative that is used to colour foods, cosmetics, and other products. It is literally industrial waste. I have a strong sensitivity to this substance, and believe there are many others out there as well who (perhaps unknowingly) have the same problem. If you get mysterious hives or sometimes wake up with swollen eyelids, this could be the culprit.

Tartrazine is also reputed to be a catalyst in hyperactivity/ADD, other behavioural problems, asthma, migranes, thyroid cancer, and lupus! Have you noticed how many more children have asthma and hyperactivity problems these days? There is research that shows there is a link. Many of the children on Ritalin or other behavioural drugs are probably just eating a diet rich in toxic food additives that are approved by the government as safe.

Ironically enough, some of the drugs for these conditions contain tartrazine and are just making the problem worse! I stop just short of declaring it a conspiracy on the drug companies' part, but it's something to think about.

Even if you do not have any of these obvious health problems, you are being poisoned if you eat foods that contain tartrazine.

Why do food companies use it then? It's simply cheaper than natural alternatives. The important nutrient beta-carotene can be used to achieve a similar colour, but it costs more for the manufacturer. As with many of the evils in this world, it all comes down to "the bottom line" (aka greed.) Can you imagine having the idea to put coal tar waste into food as a colouring? Whomever started this has done something truly evil to the general public's health.

My Story

For about 10 years, I had mild eczema on one of my hands which came and went. I used a prescription cortizone cream which helped the itching some, but never got rid of the skin problem completely. When the condition started appearing on my face and neck, I started to worry. Every few weeks, I would get red circles and swelling around my eyes and mouth, as well as spots on my neck. These red spots would appear in the same places every time, and take up to 5 days to heal. After a few months, the redness never healed completely, it just varied in severity.

The first doctor I saw gave me a weaker cortizone to put on my face which burned my skin and did not help the healing. The second doctor I saw told me I had "idiopathic" hives, which meant there was no discernable cause. He offered to give me a pill regimen to "suppress my immune system." I decided I needed my immune system more than ever and declined. The third doctor I saw gave me allergy tests which came up negative. He gave me a long list of food items to avoid and said to introduce them one at a time so I would know which had been the problem. I realized that it had been the vitamins I was taking, which contained tartrazine. The time period I had been ill matched up perfectly with the amount of time I'd been taking the pills and when I stopped the redness went away for the first time in months and my hand healed completely for the first time in YEARS.

I am happy that I now know what the problem is, but the prolonged daily exposure from the vitamins has made me extra-sensitive to tartrazine. I have learned which foods to avoid in general, but every once in awhile something sneaks through and the symptoms come back. Unfortunately, now even a small amount of tartrazine brings the symptoms back.

In some ways, I am glad this happened to me, because it has made me adopt a much healthier diet. I have also become a vegetarian after learning about the additives and hormones put into animal feed. Chickens are often fed dyes to make the eggs and flesh look nicer! I encourage everyone to look into vegetarianism, but if that's too much for you, consider giving up red meat and chicken, or try to only eat organic meats and free-range eggs. Organic food is better for you and much more delicious! I do not believe that eating meat is morally wrong, but I do believe that the way most modern farm animals are treated and drugged up is. Look into it and educate yourself, then make up your own mind.

What products contain tartrazine?

In the United States, manufacturers are required to indicate that a product contains tartrazine on the label. I live in Canada, where it is not required. It is extremely frustrating for me to try and eliminate this toxic food additive from my diet completely, especially when eating out. Tartrazine has been banned in Norway and Austria.

Here is a list of some of the things that often (but not always!) contain tartrazine:

  • prescription and non-prescription pharmaceutical drugs
  • skim milk
  • yogurt
  • butter/margarine
  • orange coloured cheeses
  • Kraft Macaroni and Cheese ("Kraft Dinner")
  • Orange coloured snacks (cheezies, Doritos, etc.)
  • Candy
  • Gelatin and pudding desserts
  • Ice Cream
  • Mountain Dew
  • Tang
  • other artificially coloured drinks
  • boxed breakfast cereals
  • shrimp
  • canned fruits and vegetables
  • pastas
  • breads, cakes, and other baked goods (especially ones that contain "candied fruit")
  • wasabi
  • alcoholic drinks (especially mixed drinks like sours but also some beer!)
  • shampoo
  • cosmetics
  • lotions
  • toothpaste
  • vitamins
  • birth control pills
  • aspirin

Check those labels!

This is only a partial list of things to look out for tartrazine in. It's hiding in all kinds of places you wouldn't expect such as chocolate pudding and even caviar, so watch out! Sometimes products (especially those imported from Asia) have tartrazine that isn't declared on the label! This example of an FDA enforcement report mentions several labeling violations.

links

How Hazardous are food dyes?
an article from Dr. Weil, who maintains that artificial dyes are bad for everyone, not just the allergic.

Our Food Supply - A Chemical Cuisine
an article by Mary Bateman, one of the other crusaders against tartrazine. It includes information on how her husband suffers from a severe reaction to which inhibits his ability to breathe!

Number is up for Pupils' Tuck
an English article about how much behaviour improved in students after they stopped giving them artificially coloured food (& encouraged parents to participate at home.)

The Feingold Diet
this newsletter from the Feingold diet (used to combat hyperactivity) contains some very interesting information about tartrazine, such as the fact that its chemical composition often doesn't meet government regulations. Visit the Feingold Association's Homepage for more information about the diet.

Tartrazine and Vitamins
this article says that tartrazine causes problems because it interferes with the body's absorption of Zinc and Vitamin B6. I take supplements of these vitamins when I feel the symptoms coming on. The rest of the time I avoid synthetic supplements and try to eat foods rich in these nutrients.

Tartrazine Terrors
a description of tartrazine from a British medical site.

Food Allergies, Rare but Risky
an article from the FDA about food allergies in general which mentions tartrazine.

Food Color Facts
another FDA article, with general information about food colourings.

Curries could damage your health
as this British article shows, you have to be extra careful at restaurants.

"Inactive" Ingredients in Pharmaceutical Products
an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics that mentions tartrazine.

Pub Med
here, search Medline for free. This database contains abstracts of scientific and medical articles, good information for doctors. I've gone through this site and picked a few citations.

Chemical Sensitivity
this Australian article talks about the problem of chemical sensitivity in general and suggests Zinc supplements for tartrazine-sensitive individuals. Make sure there are no artificial colours in those pills!

Women's Health and the Environment
this site identifies tartrazine as a possible catalyst in the disease Lupus! Definitely another reason to avoid it.

Alternative Medicine and Health: Hives
presents alternative treatments for dealing with hives, naming tartrazine as a common cause.

Other affects of tartrazine
this page lists other affects that tartrazine can have, including thyroid tumors!

Food Additives Guide
this site lists a large number of food additives and their uses and effects. There are lots of other evil chemicals in our food besides the dyes! Tartrazine is E102, or the first link.

Tartrazine as a "harmless food colour" ???
this page gives more scientific chemical information about what tartrazine consists of. It's from a manufacturer of food dyes in India, so they refer to it as a "harmless food colour."

More links coming soon!

guestbook

Please sign my guestbook, especially if you have had any experiences with tartrazine you would like to share. Your words can add greatly to the value of this site, thank you!

View My Guestbook to see others' accounts of problems with tartrazine.

Also, I've started an email list for those interested in staying in touch on the subject:

Subscribe to tartrazine
You can also visit my other website: The Practical Hippie, a site with other types of health, social, and environmental information.

email me

Feel free to email me with comments or questions!

Last updated November 25, 2002