by Beth Bruno 06/20/2002

More on Red Dye #40

Several months ago I printed an article about negative effects of Red Dye #40, a common food additive. I received dozens of letters from readers about their experiences with a host of nasty symptoms that they traced to food dyes. So I wrote a letter to the FDA asking for information about their research. Along with the letter I included copies (names deleted to protect privacy) of about a dozen of the letters readers had sent to me. I got the run-around from the FDA. I was sent to regional representatives who, instead of trying to answer my questions, kept asking me what I wanted to know.

Next I contacted a local television station with the same information (including copies of the letters). No response from the consumer advocate there either. How do we as consumers get agencies like the FDA or consumer watchdog groups to sit up and take notice? How do you get a response when you have a consumer complaint?

I continue to receive several letters a month about the negative effects of food dyes (red dye in particular). The following is a sampling of some of recent letters.

Dear Beth:

I am the mother of a seven-year-old daughter who has a defiant, out-of-control, hyper reaction when she has something that contains the red#40 dye. I am doing all I can to eliminate red#40 from her diet, but it is in so many products.

I am not the only parent with this problem. I brought this topic up with many of my friends and had them do the same experiment that I did by taking this out of their children's diets. Their reaction was total amazement. Their children became well behaved and listened.

Why is the FDA not doing something about this? How can we as concerned parents help to bring this to other parents attention? Please let me know.


I read your article about red #40 and thought I would add our experience to the list in case it may help others.

My daughter is 21 years old and has had severe reactions to Red #40 since she was 12 years old. She began to have severe asthma attacks at about age 12. She had never had asthma before and was ending up in the hospital emergency room on a regular basis. We were giving her a popular cough syrup (as per doctors orders) about 6 times a day plus inhalers. She just got worse.

After much detective work I finally realized it was the red dye that was causing her attacks. Now if she eats even a tablespoon of something with red dye in it she gets very sick and starts coughing immediately. We have found out the cough syrup she was taking is loaded with red dye and so was the candy she was eating to get rid of the taste of the inhalers. So instead of helping her get better we were making things worse.

As a side note, her doctor doesn't trust our theory of red dye being the problem, and that is how I stumbled onto your articles and letters from readers. Her father, her husband, her mother (me) and my daughter all KNOW it is the red dye, and we are trying to convince the doctor. Red #40 is found everywhere and is very often used in medicines.

The doctor's concern is that she is limiting the antibiotics and other medicines she can take by eliminating those with red #40. I am still searching for ways to convince him, short of a major attack in his office after ingesting red #40. If you learn anymore about the dye and asthma could you please inform me or address it on the web site?


I've read that red 40 causes hives in some people. Recently, I began having a reaction when I ate orange or red foods that were artificially colored. It seems like the one thing they all had in common was red 40.

My reaction is that my legs itch! I've never heard of such a crazy reaction, but if some people get hives from the dye, it makes the itching sound more plausible. I'll usually begin itching the next day and it will last 4 days or more. It's almost a painful itch, and I've used Solarcaine to calm it down. My skin does not turn red and I do not get hives. It never happened until months ago when I began eating strawberry yogurt almost every day at work. I had a giant reaction that lasted about 3 or 4 weeks and it was terrible!

At first I thought it was just yogurt in general, but I don't seem to have a problem with yogurt that doesn't have red 40. I'd really love to hear your thoughts on this. I've been allergy tested but I only reacted to the dust test. I was tested for food allergies but I'm not sure if red 40 is included.


About three weeks ago, my 12 year old son suffered swelling and hives on his face and torso. Realizing this was some sort of allergic reaction, I questioned him concerning his activities. I immediately gave him benedryl and rubbed hydrocortisone on the affected areas. The swelling, hives and redness went away. A few days later, this again occurred. The conclusion was that the reaction was the result of his eating a handful of cheese puffs. I have been able to convince him that eliminating food dyes is not such a bad thing and fortunately, he has been fairly cooperative.

My question is this: Where may one obtain some objective and detailed information concerning the effects of food dyes on both the body and behavior in both children and adults? Have independent studies been done on this? How reliable are these test results you mentioned which were performed by the FDA? As a younger child, this son also exhibited some odd behavior patterns (making involuntary noises, twitches, some hyper activity). Most of these symptoms seem to have subsided, but I can't help but wonder about links to food dyes.

He also suffers from topical reactions occasionally with laundry detergent and soap. It varies from time to time and product to product. As a loving parent, I want my child to enjoy good health as well as be able to take charge of his health as he grows older. The teen years are around the corner, so the time for influencing his decisions grows short. I would appreciate any information or insight you could send my way.


I read your article regarding allergies to red dye 40. I am a 52 year old female who, over the past several years, has had allergic reactions to certain yogurts when they contain fruit, especially strawberries (I am not allergic to strawberries alone). I have also had the same allergic reaction, which is severe swelling of both eyes, itching and burning of the eyes, and antihistamines do not help as the allergic reaction progresses. It usually takes a couple of days until the swelling is completely gone. Yesterday I had the same reaction when I ate Silouette Ice Cream Sandwiches (strawberry flavored). I noticed that Red Dye 40 was a common denominator for both the ice cream and the Fat Free Dannon Yogurt I consumed.

I have also had the same severe reaction to certain eye makeups (eye shadows which have a red coloring in it). The allergic reaction only seems to immediately affect my eyes. On a rare occasion I developed itching and a rash on my hands, but it does not always occur. Always the swelling on my eyes. Sometimes I sneeze prior to the swelling. I would like to know if these symptoms are typical of Red Dye 40 allergies.


Note from Beth Bruno: I don't consider these anecdotes to be scientific proof that Red Dye #40 is harmful. But I've received so many letters that describe so many negative symptoms, I think it worth further investigation, especially since I know of no nutritional benefits humans derive from these dyes. If even one person is harmed by them, why add them at all?


* Articles about Red Dye #40:
* Previous Education Q&A articles on Red Dye from March, 2001: and

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