Tartrazine (also known as "FD&C Yellow Number 5" or "E-102" in Europe) is a coal-tar derivative that is used to color 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 behavioral problems, asthma, migranes, thyroid cancer, and lupus!
Have you noticed how many children are being diagnosed as "hyperactive" these days? There is research that shows there might be a link (and that dietary changes can help.) Many of the children on Ritalin or other behavioral drugs are probably just eating a diet rich in toxic food additives that are approved by the government as safe. Some schools have noticed a major difference in pupils' behavior after banning snacks with tartrazine.
Ironically enough, some of the drugs for these conditions contain tartrazine and are probably 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.
Why do food companies use it? It's simply cheaper than natural alternatives. The important nutrient beta carotene can be used to achieve a similar color, but it costs more for the manufacturer. Can you imagine having the idea to put coal tar waste into food as a coloring? As with many of the evils in this world, it all comes down to "the bottom line" (aka greed.)
What products contain tartrazine?
Here is a list of some of the things that often (but not always!) contain tartrazine:
In the United States, manufacturers are required to indicate that a product contains tartrazine on the label. In Canada, labels are only required to say "colour." In the United Kingdom and Europe, tartrazine is referred to as "E-102" though it has been banned in Norway and Austria.
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.
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 re-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 contain tartrazine. The time period I had been ill matched up perfectly with the amount of time I'd been taking the pills.
When I started avoiding tartrazine my face finally cleared up and my hand healed completely for the first time in several 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 triggers a painful (and unattractive) reaction that lasts for five days.
In many ways, I am glad this happened to me, because it has made me adopt a much more natural diet, which has had a profound influence on my health. I have also become an almost-vegetarian (I eat fish once in awhile) 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 eat less meat, consider giving up red meat and poultry, or eat organic meats and free-range eggs. (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.
How Hazardous are food dyes? (cached)
Our Food Supply - A Chemical Cuisine
Number is up for Pupils' Tuck (cached)
The Feingold Diet (cached)
Tartrazine and Vitamins (cached)
Tartrazine Terrors (cached)
Food Allergies, Rare but Risky (cached)
Food Color Facts (cached)
Curries could damage your health (cached)
"Inactive" Ingredients in Pharmaceutical Products (cached)
Women's Health and the Environment (cached)
Food Intolerance and Eczema (cached)
Alternative Medicine and Health: Hives (cached)
Adverse Effects of "Inactive" Ingredients (cached)
Food Additives Guide
Don't OverDew It
Guestbook and Tartrazine Email List
My tartrazine guestbook has been running for several years and contains many additional anecdotes about tartrazine from around the world. Please sign it if you have something to add. Your words can contribute to the value of this site and help get the word out about tartrazine.
I have also started an email list for those interested in staying in touch on the subject.