Medical Technology

Synthetic Food Dyes and Colorectal Cancer: Is There a Connection?

What are the health effects of the dyes used to make food more vibrant? A scientist from the pharmaceutical industry analyzes the evidence ahead of the holidays.

What you need to be aware of:

  • The American standard diet, which comprises 60% processed foods such as meats and sweets, is linked to a higher likelihood of colorectal carcinoma.

  • There is some evidence that the artificial dyes used in these foods, ranging from candy canes and cookies to salmon and ham, could be contributing to this risk according to Lorne J. Hofseth, PhD. director of the Center for Colon Cancer Research at the University of South Carolina.

  • The US Food and Drug Administration has approved nine synthetic dyes for use in food. Fewer synthetic dyes are approved in the EU and none are considered to be carcinogens.

  • However evidence suggests that gut bacteria can break down the dyes into molecules that can cause cancer. Studies have also demonstrated that synthetic dyes can trigger inflammation and damage otherwise healthy cells if utilized for long periods of time.

  • Hofseth and colleagues have published research that is not yet published. It suggests that approved dyes such as Red 40 and Yellow 5 can cause DNA harm in colon cancer cells in the laboratory. However, the results have not yet been replicated in animal models.

This is a summary of the article “Colorful sweets can look delicious However, some researchers are unsure Whether Synthetic Dyes May Pose Health Risks to Your Colon and Rectum,” published in The Conversation on December 10. The full article is available at

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