Friday, February 6, 2009

A Doctor's Thoughts About Synthetic Dyes

(Fourth of four parts)
Synthetic, petroleum-based colorants are everywhere, a fact that irks Dr. Scott Bienenfeld, an addiction psychiatrist in New York City and the Medical Director for the New York Center for Living, a program for adolescents battling drug, alcohol and other problems.

“They are in everything—food, drugs, cosmetics,” Bienenfeld said. “It’s disconcerting as a physician, parent and consumer.”

As a consumer, Bienenfeld sees how difficult it is to avoid the synthetic dyes.

“Once you realize that you have an allergy to an artificial color,” he said, “it requires a full-scale lifestyle change to avoid it.”

As a parent, Bienenfeld is taking steps to protect his children. His family no longer uses commercial toothpastes, having switched to Tom’s of Maine. (I will discuss toothpastes in greater detail next week.)

As a doctor, Bienenfeld is disturbed that the colorants appear in “over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, cough medicines, everything.”

He told a story of spending more than an hour trying to locate a drug devoid of synthetic dyes that he could prescribe to a patient.

“Anecdotally, people report that when they go on a restrictive diet, their problems go away,” Bienenfeld said.

However, Bienenfeld would like to see more studies done on larger test groups, in the hopes of filling in the gaps of our knowledge.

“We just don’t have a good clinical understanding of the long-term effects of these additives,” he said. “There is a very big discrepancy between the number of people who complain about additives causing allergic-type reactions and the number of studies done to investigate it.”

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