Artificial colours now hidden in pharmacy items

Many Network members recently heard that their favourite Amcal One-a-Day vitamin tablet has been reformulated and now contains sunset yellow 110 (plus two nasty synthetic antioxidants) which weren’t there before. Pharmaceuticals are increasingly sourced from India and China, where artificial colours are still widely used.

Will such changes be on the label? How can you tell what is in your toothpaste, toiletries, supplements and medicines?

Pharmaceuticals are not required to list all ingredients on the label. Even if they claim 'no artificial colours and preservatives, yeast, sugar, gluten etc' they are not necessarily failsafe. With medicines you can sometimes google the ingredients or ask your pharmacist for the CMI (Consumer Medicine Information) sheet.

But with Amcal One-a-Day  the company made the mistake of telling one enquirer that there was a new artificial colour and another enquirer there was not, so after multiple emails and phone calls over four weeks the truth finally came out.

A recent research paper in Clinical Pediatrics reminded us that the amount of food dyes consumed in the USA has risen from 12 to 62 mg/person/day over the past 60 years.

This study criticised earlier studies that used unrealistically low amounts of artificial colours in tests of effects on children’s behaviour and learning. Swanson and Kinsbourne reported that 17 of 20 children reacted to a challenge of 100-150mg of an artificial colour mix as assessed by a learning task while Pollock and Warner reported reactions to a 125mg in 8 of 19 children based on standard parents’ rating scales.

The famous Southhampton study by McCann et al used only 20-30mg of artificial colours. These caused significant hyperactivity-type changes in children both with and without ADHD and resulted in a warning label on EU foods but not in the USA or Australia. The Bateman and McCann studies may have been even more revealing if more realistic doses of dyes had been used.

Meanwhile, we don’t believe our food regulators (FSANZ) reassurances about low consumption of artificial colours in Australia.  They have badly underestimated intakes due to the use of old dietary data. For example, they didn’t consider intake of colour additives in icypoles, slushies, pharmaceuticals and even … bread …! A mother whose son was being assessed for ADHD recently told us he ate spinach flavoured wraps. ‘I never read labels,’ she said. ‘I thought it was healthy for him.’ She’s not the only one. A majority of parents in our talks admit to buying this wrap. But it’s not healthy. The green spinach appearance comes from a combination of artificial yellow and blue colours.



Laura J. Stevens, MS1, John R. Burgess, PhD1, Mateusz A. Stochelski, BS1, and Thomas Kuczek, PhD1 Amounts of Artificial Food Dyes and Added Sugars in Foods and Sweets Commonly Consumed by Children.  CLIN PEDIATR 0009922814530803, first published on April 24, 2014 

Artificial food colors (AFCs) are used to color many beverages, foods, and sweets in the United States and throughout the world. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits the AFCs allowed in the diet to 9 different colors. The FDA certifies each batch of manufactured AFCs to guarantee purity and safety. The amount certified has risen from 12 mg/capita/d in 1950 to 62 mg/capita/d in 2010. Previously, we reported the amounts of AFCs in commonly consumed beverages. In this article, the amounts of AFCs in commonly consumed foods and sweets are reported. In addition, the amount of sugars in each product is included. Amounts of AFCs reported here along with the beverage data show that many children could be consuming far more dyes than previously thought. Clinical guidance is given to help caregivers avoid AFCs and reduce the amount of sugars in children’s diets.

Swanson JM, Kinsbourne M. Food dyes impair performance of hyperactive children on a laboratory learning test. Science. 1980;207:1485-1487.

Pollock I, Warner JO. Effect of artificial food colours on childhood behaviour. Arch Dis Child. 1990;65:74-77.

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;370:1560-1567.

Bateman B, Warner JO, Hutchinson E, et al. The effects of a double blind, placebo controlled, artificial food colourings and benzoate preservative challenge on hyperactivity in a general population sample of preschool children. Arch Dis Child. 2004;89:506-511.

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