Food additives and developmental disorders: The case of erythrosin (FD&C red #3), or guilty until proven innocent?

Richard B. Mailman, Mark H. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The role of dietary constituents, particularly deliberate additives, in the etiology of developmental disorders has been a controversial issue. Numerous clinical trials, including both challenge and elimination studies, have attempted to address these issues. Varying results have been obtained with both controlled placebo or crossover studies. Moreover, by design, a variety of dietary components have been studied, ranging from a mixture of food colors to dietary manipulations that have changed the concentrations of dozens of compounds. Conversely, some reports do link a single food constituent to these behavioral problems, and this permits more directed mechanistic studies. This laboratory has been involved in studies related to the certified food color FD&C Red #3 (Erythrosin B; erythrosin). This color has been reported to alter neurotransmitter uptake or oubain binding, either effect, if real, being sufficient to explain behavioral disturbances. Contrary to earlier reports, we found that the chemical nature of the compound caused biochemical artifacts which obfuscated interpretation of the previously cited biochemical data. Moreover, only extremely high doses of this color caused behavioral effects in rats. Since preliminary pharmacokinetic studies suggested that the color would not enter the central nervous system readily, then it is probably not sufficiently neurotoxic to pose a human hazard. These results exemplify the necessity of considering basic principles of pharmacology and physiology before assigning neurotoxicity to a specific agent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-305
Number of pages9
JournalApplied Research In Mental Retardation
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1981

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Rehabilitation
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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