Because food additives are only tested in isolation, we hardly ever hear about the impact of additives in combination, which is how they are consumed in the real world. So in 2006, researchers at the U.K.’s University of Liverpool decided to examine the toxic effects on nerve cells by using a combination of four common food additives: E133 Brilliant Blue with monosodium glutamate (MSG) and E104 Quinoline Yellow with E951 L-aspartyl-L-phenylalanine methyl ester (all European terms).
E133 Brilliant Blue is known as FD&C Blue No.1 in the U.S. E104 Quinoline Yellow = FD&C Yellow No.10 in the U.S., and E951 L-aspartyl-L-phenylalanine methyl ester is Aspartame.
The mixtures of additives had a much more potent effect on nerve cells than each additive on its own. The effect on cells was up to four times greater when Brilliant Blue and MSG were combined, and up to seven times greater when Quinoline Yellow and Aspartame were combined. The study shows that when the nerve cells were exposed to MSG and Brilliant Blue or Aspartame and Quinoline Yellow the additives stopped the nerve cells from normal growth and interfered with proper signaling systems.
The experiments were conducted in laboratory conditions and the additives were combined in concentrations that theoretically reflected the compound that enters the bloodstream after a typical children’s snack and drink. Risk of toxic additives, in isolation or in combination, is pronounced most high among infants and children. The research was published in Toxicological Sciences Magazine, March 2006, “Synergistic interactions between commonly used food additives in a developmental neurotoxicity test.”
FD&C Blue No. 1 is used in food, textiles, leathers, and cosmetics. It can be found in soft drinks, gelatin desserts, ice cream, drink powders, candy, bakery products, cereals, feta cheese, dairy products and pudding. Also used in toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorants, cosmetics and pet foods. It has been linked to ADHD, allergies, and asthma.
In 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned of reports of toxicity, including death, temporally associated with the use of FD&C Blue No. 1 in enteral feeding solutions. Blue 1 was used to help in the detection and/or monitoring of pulmonary aspiration in patients being fed by an enteral feeding tube. In 2013 a research team at the Slovak University of Technology discovered Blue 1 can enter the bloodstream via the skin or through the digestive tract. It was previously thought that ingested dyes were destroyed by the gastrointestinal system.
In the EU and Australia, Quinoline Yellow is permitted in beverages and is used in foods, like sauces, decorations, and coatings. It is not a permitted food additive in Canada or the US, but is permitted in medicines and cosmetics.
A Danish research project on the chemical cocktail effects in food was completed in March. It established that even small doses of chemicals can have significant negative effects if they are present together. A serious concern has been that substances can amplify each other’s effects, so that their combined effect becomes greater than what can be predicted by looking at the individual chemicals.
“This insight has a profound impact on the way we should assess the risk posed by chemicals we are exposed to through the foods we eat,” said Professor Anne Marie Vinggaard from the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark.
In the project, a mathematical model was developed to reliably calculate the cocktail effect of chemical mixtures in cases where the effect and dose of single chemicals are already known or can be estimated. Calculations using this method suggest that the chemical burden that Danes are subjected to may be harmful to the overall health for groups with the highest exposure.
The project was funded by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries of Denmark.