Allura Acrylamide Atrazine

What do Allura Red, acrylamide, and atrazine have in common? (Aside from alliteration, of course). These three compounds are among the most prevalent within their class of chemicals and have gone under the consumer radar for years. Allura Red is the most popular red food dye; acrylamide can be found in the most popular carbohydrate-rich foods we consume; and atrazine is among the most popular pesticides used in corn crops—itself an incredibly widespread food. Today TellSpec is finally bringing these baddies into the light.

Allura Red AC, otherwise known as Red 40, is the most commonly used red food dye. Derived from petroleum, Allura Red is an azo dye that contains benzidene, a human and animal carcinogen. While studies of toxicity in animals have shown negative effects primarily at very high intake, case reports of human health effects differ somewhat. Indeed recent studies have suggested that consumption of artificial dyes, including Allura Red, in combination with benzoates, a type of preservative, can lead to hyperactive behaviour in children. Now this sounds like a fairly far-fetched concern, however given the prevalence of Allura Red in processed foods–processed foods which are likely to contain benzoate preservatives. Notably, sodium benzoate is used in acidic foods like salad dressings, soft drinks, fruit juice, and jam–all of which are prime targets for a dash of Allura to punch up the Red. Interestingly, Allura Red’s usage is discouraged in Europe and outright banned in certain countries, such as Denmark, Belgium, France, and Switzerland. It is also forbidden from use in animal feed due to concerns over its potential to interact with genetic material.

Whereas Allura’s status as an additive is fairly recent, acrylamide is something that has, as far as we know, been present in food for as long as we’ve been heating our carbohydrate sources–but it is only now coming under scrutiny. Acrylamide is a naturally occurring chemical that develops when high-starch foods meet high-heat (above 248oF or 120oC) cooking (though it is also present in less starchy foods like coffee and high fructose corn syrup.) Baking, frying, grilling, and roasting are associated with the greatest level of acrylamide production, whereas boiling and microwaving starches appears not to generate the compound. Generally speaking, the more browned the starch, the greater its acrylamide content. Something to consider when reaching for another slice of bread, with it’s golden crust, let alone tossing it into the toaster. So why are we focusing now on something that’s been around for ages? Because acrylamide has been classified as probably carcinogenic to humans; high intake has shown neurotoxic effects in humans, including cognitive impairment, muscle weakness, and loss of motor control; and the compound can cross the placenta to interact with the fetus–and maternal acrylamide intake has been associated with low birth weight and poor fetal growth, both of which are predictors for later health risks.

We can see Allura by its distinctive colour, and the golden hue and cooking method gives us a clue about acrylamide, but atrazine is undetectable to the ill-equipped consumer. Atrazine is an herbicide and pesticide, used in a great variety of crops to prevent weed growth. In fact it is reported to be one of the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the US (and Australia… the European Union has banned it entirely) and one of the most common pesticide contaminants of drinking water. What crops are the prime targets and of most relevance to consumers? Sugarcane, canola, and corn–and what processed foods don’t contain sugar, vegetable oils, and corn in some form, be that starch or syrup? Of course atrazine would be present in trace amounts, but awareness is important when we consider the health effects. Atrazine is an endocrine disruptor: it inhibits testosterone production in male rats; it disrupts communication between the brain and ovaries in female rats, likewise interfering with hormone production; and it leads to hermaphroditism in frogs. Atrazine alters thyroid function and levels of corticosteroid hormones–even at the low concentrations expected in ground water. Atrazine exposure has been linked in humans to increased risk of low birth weight and premature birth and impaired fetal development, including malformation of the genitals. Atrazine is also carcinogenic, having induced a variety of types of tumors (including a link to ovarian cancer) in rodent studies, and possibly obesogenic, having been associated with increased body mass and insulin resistance.

So what can the consumer do to avoid these chemicals? For Allura Red, read your labels and accept a duller colour to your food. For acrylamide, while it is important to recall that this compound has always been around, being moderate in one’s consumption of starchy foods (particularly ones best served baked, roasted, or toasted) is an option. For atrazine, invisible that it is, short of lobbying our governments to change their stance on their favourite helper in the corn field, consumers must unfailingly choose organic and settle for uncertainty regarding trace amounts throughout the food stream.

References:

Food and Chemical Toxicology
Food and Chemical Toxicology 2
The New Yorker
Environmental Health Perspectives
Toxicology
The Lancet
Food Additives & Contaminants
The UK Food Guide
Food Standards Agency
Environmental Health Perspectives 2
Environmental Health Perspectives 3
Environmental Health Perspectives 4
European Commission Institute for Health and Consumer Protection
Reproductive Toxicology
PNAS
Toxicology and Sciences
Toxicology and Industrial Health
Environmental Research
Public Health Reports
Toxicology in Vitro
American Journal of Medical Genetics
Annual Review of Public Health
Environmental Health Perspectives 5

What are Endocrine (Hormone) Disruptors?

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the hormones in our bodies. These chemicals are capable of increasing and decreasing hormone production, mimicking hormones, changing hormones from one type into another, and interfering with hormone signaling (Crisp, 1998). Through these various mechanisms, endocrine disruptors have been linked to adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. Being both natural and man-made, these chemicals can be found in a wide range of everyday products, including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides (NIEHS, 2014). Given their ubiquitous presence in everyday goods, it is important that consumers are aware of the risks of these products and have the tools to avoid them. By using Tellspec’s revolutionary smartphone app and the Tellspecopedia consumers will have the ability to quickly scan their food products and receive up-to-date information on items such as endocrine disruptors.

One Example of an endocrine (hormone) disruptor: BPA

What is BPA


BPA is the building block of polycarbonate plastic and is also used in the manufacture of epoxy resins. This endocrine disruptor is found in many common consumer products such as plastic food containers, plastic food packaging and canned food items lined with epoxy resin (Beronius, 2010). Not only found in food items, BPA is also present in compact discs, impact-resistant safety equipment, medical devices, water supply pipes, dental sealants (NIEHS, 2014) and store receipts (Liao, 2011). Though BPA is generally not present in food itself, plastic containers and epoxy lined cans slowly leech BPA into food over time. This leeching effect speeds up with the age and temperature of the container and also with the liquidity of the food item. Therefore, older plastic containers heated to high temperatures containing liquid products are the quickest at leeching BPA (NIEHS, 2014).

What can you do to avoid BPA?


Do you want this chemical imitating estrogen in your body? If not, choose fresh or dried foods instead of products canned in tin or plastic. If you cannot avoid the use of some canned or plastic items, be aware that the FDA considers BPA to be safe and does not require producers to label their merchandise as containing BPA or as BPA free (FDA, 2013). Therefore, to avoid unlabelled BPA-containing plastic, do not use plastics marked with a “PC,” for polycarbonate, or with recycling label #7 (FDA, 2013). In addition, check your tupperware manufacturers for their policies on BPA. If their products contain BPA, discontinue their use and seek out BPA-free tupperware. Though this may seem like a lot of work, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to keeping synthetic hormones out of your body.

Health Concerns


Studies have linked BPA to:

1.Breast cancer
BPA leads to an increased risk for development of breast tumors and has been shown to make cancer cells more aggressive.

2.Reproductive problems
BPA has been shown to reduce semen quality in men and lower estradiol levels and oocyte retrieval in women undergoing IVF.

3.Lowers sex drive
BPA increases the risk of reduced sexual desire, erectile difficulty, ejaculation difficulty and reduced satisfaction with sex life in men.

4.Birth defects
BPA has been linked to poor genital development in baby boys born to mothers exposed to high levels of BPA.

5.Heart disease
BPA increases the risk of myocardial infarction and coronary heart disease.

6.Obesity
BPA accelerates fat-cell differentiation, disrupt pancreatic functioning, and causes insulin resistance, leading to obesity.

No Safe Levels of BPA


Given all of the negative effects seen from BPA exposure, what does this mean for the average consumer? Can we get away with a little exposure here and there? BPA expert Laura N. Vandenberg, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow of regenerative biology at Tufts University, says no, we cannot. She states that there are no safe levels of BPA due to how it affects hormone function in the body. At low doses BPA can actually be more harmful than at high doses (Vandenberg, 2012), and unfortunately, over 90% of Americans have relatively low doses of BPA in their bodies (Bienkowski, 2014). Therefore, in order to avoid BPA exposure it is imperative that consumers are knowledgeable of how their food is processed and packaged-information that Tellspec is proud to offer.

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Artificial Colours Part 2

The food industry has a long history with food dyes, both synthetic and nature-derived. They are widely used because humans eat with their eyes. It’s important, however, to question and evaluate the safety of these synthetic food dyes. There are examples of food dyes widely used for years, then banned due to negative health effects, such as Orange 1. Today TellSpec is sharing the research on six synthetic food dyes possibly present in your food; with the exception of Orange 1, these are dyes that are currently approved as safe for use in noted nations.

yellow-5

Tartrazine is a synthetic yellow dye. Permitted in US, carries a warning in the UK and EU due to its effects seen in children. Frequently associated with food intolerance, linked to hyperactivity, aggression, irritability in children. Can act as hormonal disruptor by activating human estrogen receptors. Contains benzidene, a human carcinogen. Found in: soft drinks, pasta, chips, popcorn, candy, sauces.

Other names: FD&C Yellow 5, E102, C.I. 19140, Acid Yellow 23, Food Yellow 4

Yellow-6

Sunset Yellow FCF is a synthetic, yellow azo dye derived from petroleum. Voluntarily removed from food in the UK following consumer pressure. Considered safe in low amounts. Elevated intake in animals associated with enlargement of gastrointestinal and reproductive organs and diarrhea. Contains benzidene, a human carcinogen. Found in: cheeses, confectionery, marmalades, jams, baked goods, instant noodles, soft drinks, lemon gelatin, cake decorations.

Other names: Orange Yellow S, FD&C Yellow 6, C.I. 15985, E110

Yellow-10_

Quinoline yellow is a synthetic, green-yellow dye. Banned in US, Australia, Norway. Voluntarily removed from food in UK following consumer pressure. EU permits it but lowered allowable intake by 20-fold in 2009. In combination with sodium benzoate (common preservative, particularly in soft drinks), associated with hyperactivity in children. Reports of rashes and allergic reactions common. In animal studies with very high intake, has effects on white blood cell count and weight during pregnancy. Found in: soft drinks, jellies, caramels, processed seafood, caviar, liquors, juices, candies.

Other names: Quinoline Yellow WS, Food Yellow 13, D&C Yellow No. 10, Acid yellow 3, Quinidine Yellow KT, Japan Yellow 203, Lemon Yellow ZN 3, C.I. 47005

Green-3-Fast-Green

Fast Green FCF is a synthetic green dye. Banned from use in the EU; permitted in the US, though it is the least used food dye. In high doses in animals, associated with various cancers, impaired bone marrow function, changes in composition of blood. In cell-based studies, causes changes to chromosomes of DNA and interferes with function of neurons of the brain. Found in: sports drinks, sauces and dips, chewing gum, processed vegetables.

Other names: Food green 3, FD&C Green No. 3, E143, Green 1724, Solid Green FCF, and C.I. 42053

Blue-1-Brilliant-Blue
Brilliant Blue FCF is a synthetic, blue dye derived from petroleum. Long-term toxicity studies in animals have found it safe. At site of injection in rats, cancerous growths seen. Recently associated with negative health effects when given to patients in compromised health, particularly when given via feeding tube to hospital patients. FDA endorses its removal from healthcare settings. Found in: ice cream, liqueurs, popsicles, canned vegetables, candies, dairy products.
Other names: FD&C Blue No.1, Acid Blue 9, D&C Blue No. 4, Alzen Food Blue No. 1, Atracid, Blue FG, Erioglaucine, Eriosky blue, Patent Blue AR, Xylene Blue VSG, C.I. 42090

Blue-2-Indigotine

Indigotine is a synthetic, blue dye derived from coal tar. Approved for use in US and EU. In studies of rats, injection of high dose over an extended period of time impaired growth, caused cancerous growths, and in some animals caused immediate convulsive death. In pigs, altered blood composition and impaired liver function. Found in: cheeses, yogurt, frozen desserts, fruit purees and fillings, processed seafood.

Other names: FD&C Blue No. 2, Indigo carmine, E132, 5,5′-indigodisulfonic acid sodium salt