Color My Symptoms Yellow: The Food Coloring Story – Fresh Tastes by Bev
By Bev Laumann, Author of A Taste of The Good Life: A Cookbook for IC & OAB
As if having IC wasn’t enough to handle, many of us also have allergies, fibromyalgia, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But have you ever had a mysterious “annoyance symptom”? You know, an annoying irritation of this or that which comes and goes? Your doctor doesn’t know what causes it. You can’t figure out exactly what’s triggering it, and it’s more annoying than debilitating. But it just adds insult to injury and makes life with IC a bit more difficult. If you’ve experienced this, you’re not alone. As I heard one urologist and IC researcher put it, “You folks with IC just seem to have all these little problems…”
A Personal Tale
A Personal Tale One day a few months ago I was telling one of my doctors about the minor itching I’ve had inside my ears. I’ve had this problem on and off for the last several years but, compared to a raging case of IC, this annoyance was not high on my list of medical priorities. He examined my ears and proclaimed them perfectly healthy. Then he wrote out a prescription for an anti-itch ointment. It was the best he could offer he said, since he really couldn’t see anything wrong with my ears. Maybe it was just “overactive nerves” he shrugged. I resigned myself to living with the itchies.
Then a few days later my urologist and I agreed to discontinue one of the medications I had been taking for my IC and fibromyalgia and replace it with another. As soon as I began taking the new medication I saw that it helped my IC but made my IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) worse. In an effort to find out what colon irritant might be in the new medication, I called the manufacturer. A lady in the company’s customer relations department cheerfully read me the list of inactive ingredients (binders, preservatives, and colorants) in my new medication. After listing two yellow dyes (FD&C yellow #10 and FD&C yellow #30) in the tablet’s coating, she said, “You know, I get quite a few calls from people who’ve had bad reactions to yellow dyes…lots of people are allergic to them. “Suddenly the light bulb went on in my dimly lit brain. Of course! IBS, allergies, migraines, and interstitial cystitis are all mast cell-related conditions. Could it be that the pill’s yellow dyes provoked my IBS colon symptoms?
I got out my exacto knife and a magnifying glass and began carefully scraping the coating off a peppercorn-sized yellow pill. When I was done, I had a white pill and a tiny pile of yellow dust not much bigger than the head of a large pin. For the next few days I dutifully scraped the yellow coating from each tiny pill before taking it. My IBS flare subsided within a day or two. What was really curious though, was that the ear itching that had plagued me for years totally disappeared too. But how could that be? This was a new medication. Or had I inadvertently been consuming yellow dyes in previous medications?
Well, to make a long story short, this new medication I was taking had simply replaced an old one that, you guessed it, was also colored yellow with those same two dyes. I thought of all the effort I had put into eliminating foods, only to find that the culprit all along was in the medicines I had been taking!
Happily itch-free, I then worked with my pharmacist to find another manufacturer of my new medication… one that doesn’t include dyes in the pill. I’m also now more wary of the potential for misery caused by tiny, tiny amounts of some substances.
Some yellow dyes in medication are also in larger amounts in foods. A couple of years ago I had a severe reaction to some yellow-colored buttered popcorn. I had a hard time breathing for a few minutes and the next day I had a terrific flare-up of my IC symptoms. Though I have no idea what ingredient caused the reaction, looking back now, I wonder if it was a yellow dye… in a much larger amount than I had been taking in my medications.
Food Colors, Allergies and the FDA
In 1960 Congress passed the Color Additive Amendments. This was a federal law that required all the dyes and colorants in food, drugs, or cosmetics be tested for safety before being used in any item sold. All the colorants then in use were tested. Of the nearly 200 substances used back then, very few survived the testing process. Today there are less than 35 dyes approved by the FDA for use in foods, drugs, and cosmetics.
Any food made with multiple ingredients must carry an ingredient list on the label and, if food dyes are used, the label must identify each individual dye. Research indicates that FD&C yellow #5 (tartrazine dye) may cause allergic reactions for at least one or two out of every 10,000 people in the U.S..