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Everyone has seen the alluring, brightly colored candies, cookies, and cakes at their local grocery store.  These vibrant treats catch your attention from across the store, drowning out the softer, more natural hues of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other UN-processed foods. The enticing colors and decorations come from added food dyes. The dye is there simply for appearance, not added taste, nutrition, or any other purpose. But is it as innocent as it seems? Unfortunately, no. Food dyes can affect the immune system, nervous system, hormones, and more. 


Consumption of food dyes, derived from petroleum, has increased in the United States fivefold since 1955. [1] In this article, Doc talks about how an orange soda ordered in Europe looks more like a lemonade. It still tastes like an orange soda, because that’s what it is; essentially, in orange juice and club soda. But in the United States, the vibrant orange color comes from added food dye—not the actual ingredients, like oranges.  

Food dye isn’t only in cookies, cakes, and candies. A dye called Red 40 (Allura Red) is used in beverages, dairy products, meat, and poultry. It was introduced to use in place of natural dye from the grain-like seed, amaranth. [2] Blue 1, or “brilliant blue,” is also used in dairy products, plus liqueurs, seafood, seasonings, and condiments. It’s interesting to note that the NIH categorizes Blue 1 as an herbicide/pesticide as well as a food additive. [3]  

These are just a couple of common food dyes used in everyday foods. We haven’t even touched on the variety of dyes used in candy, cakes, and other colorful snacks.


When building a house, you order the supplies you want to construct the house with. If you’re building a brick home, you won’t buy wood siding. Not only would the siding be unnecessary, but it would put stress on your budget and the work area, because you’d need somewhere to put it. This thought process seems like common sense when discussing building a home, car, or anything else. 

Eating well should follow the same thought process. You bring into the work area only what the result–your body–will be built of. If something your body isn’t made of enters the work area, the body will attack it to protect the entire worksite. This is what happens with the immune response.   

Finding something to do with the unneeded materials taxes the body’s available energy stores, using more than it normally would. That decreases the energy and resources it’s able to put toward other areas – like healing. 


According to Dr. Aristo Vojdani, who is considered the Father of Functional Immunology, the molecules of synthetic food dye are so small the immune system can struggle to defend the body against them. They can sneak past the immune system by attaching to food or body proteins. In essence, food dyes can act in “stealth mode” to get elude and disrupt the immune response. Downstream, they can activate the inflammatory response, increase intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”), and trigger cross-reactivities, autoimmune conditions, and neurobehavioral disorders. [3 

If your immune system isn’t functioning well, you’re at greater risk of something hazardous causing further problems. Food coloring is made of petroleum, and the body isn’t, so the immune response being unable to catch it can cause innumerable problems in the body.   


Because food dyes can get past the immune response, they impact the body without threat. Let’s break down some effects food dyes can have on the body when they evade the immune system.   


During the last fifty years, the amount of synthetic dye used in food has increased by 500%. Of course, our foods deliver the most significant amount of dyes introduced to the body, but they’re also in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. Reports of allergies and other immune reactions have increased alongside the growth of dye use. In tandem with these, reports of aggression, ADD, and ADHD in children have grown. [3]  

Food dyes’ effects on child behavior have been studied for years. A two-year report by the OEHHA extensively reviewed the effects food dyes have on humans and animals. These were all food dyes approved by the FDA. Animal studies showed that food dyes affected memory, learning, activity, and changes in brain structure. Human studies showed food dyes are associated with adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in children. Researchers further found that the FDA’s Acceptable Daily Intake levels (ADIs) for these dyes are 35-70 years old, based on studies that weren’t designed to detect today’s common behavioral issues. [4 

Even two decades ago, studies showed a link between hyperactivity and food dyes. In one such study, 73% of children (19 of 26) with ADHD showed a decrease in symptoms when the dyes and additives in their diet were removed. [5] Studies also show that children show increased irritability, restlessness, and difficulty sleeping when given food dye. When given doses over 10mg, this effect lasted longer. [6] How many milligrams does the average American child take in? Purdue university published reports on the amount of dye in some common foods. As of 2014, many cereal brands hovered around 30 mg, with some hitting 40. [7]   


If the things laid out above are what happens when food coloring sneaks through the immune system, what happens if it doesn’t? 

If the immune response catches the toxins and fights them off, it occupies the immune response. When the immune response is constantly fired and used, it can quickly get stressed and tired. When this happens, the immune response bypasses some of the checkpoints. This can result in the body tissue that holds the invaders being attacked along with the invaders. When this happens consistently, autoimmune disorders result.  

In seasons where a lot of food dye or other toxins are eaten or absorbed into the body, it becomes much easier for the immune system to get fatigued. 


You can still join in the fun when it comes to Halloween candy, Christmas treats, birthday desserts, and Easter eggs. It’s just a matter of how the dyes are made. When the dyes are made from more natural ingredients, the colors won’t be as bright, but they also won’t cause as many problems. Health drinks and sports drinks are other areas to look out for when it comes to hidden artificial dyes.  

Growmuse offers alternative, plant-based ways to dye foods for your favorite, colored treats. Of course, if you’re dyeing with natural ingredients, you’ll get a bit of the flavor, and a little can go a long way. You should start with half to a full teaspoon and adjust from there.  

  • Orange–Pumpkin, carrot juice, sweet potatoes, paprika 
  • Yellow–Turmeric powder, saffron flowers, butternut squash 
  • Green–Spinach or kale juice, matcha powder 
  • Blue–Blueberries 
  • Purple–Purple potatoes, blackberries 
  • Brown–Coffee, tea, cocoa powder 
  • Pink–Raspberries, strawberries 
  • Red–Raspberries, beetroot, pomegranate juice, cranberry juice, tomatoes, cherries. [8] 

It’s fun to see all the brightly-colored sweets and treats, and the colors can be eye-catching, but food dyes are a lot like poison frogs in the Amazon Rainforest–the brightly colored ones are best to stay away from. 

To get your immune system tested and find out more ways to support it, contact a Wellness Way clinic today!


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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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