My oldest son has suffered from ‘allergies’ for as long as I can remember. The typical runny nose, cough, ear infection cycle pretty much defined my son’s first year. At some point, though, his skin got involved. Shortly after his first birthday, we noticed he had eczema that was pretty severe. Some days were worse than others, and it had been suggested that he had an allergy. We tried just about everything on the market, (including Benadryl – if it was an allergy, surely that would help, right?) and we couldn’t get consistent results at all. My husband decided our best bet was prayer, so we took our son to the Healing Rooms, a ministry at our church for physical healing. We didn’t see a whole lot of immediate improvement, but we knew God didn’t want our son to suffer.
A short time later, Nana had a birthday. I had whipped up a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and bright pink letters. After cake that night, my sweet baby boy was on fire. That night, I began to consider that he didn’t have simple eczema, but a pretty severe allergy to something that was causing his skin to have what looked like 2nd degree burns all over his body. That night, I began searching for answers and, for the first time, hoping that there really was a solution.
I had come across a blog post on Pinterest about a week earlier where a mom was detailing her childrens’ negative reactions to food-coloring. I honestly thought it was a little ridiculous… until the night of Nana’s birthday party. And as soon as I verbalized it, I’m sure my in-laws thought I was being ridiculous, too.
We talked to the doctor and there didn’t seem to be any sort of allergy-testing available for one so little, so we went the trial-and-error route. He broke out when I made chili, so I scoured the ingredients of the chili powder, the ground beef, everything. Same thing when we had pizza one night. For about a week we decided he was allergic to the color red. It was a long-shot but it was all we had to go on. When Mimi’s birthday rolled around, we made a cake with green and blue sprinkles and no red. The result? A less-severe, still very itchy baby bear.
We experimented with eliminating food-coloring at this point, figuring it couldn’t hurt. He would still react on occasion when he had certain cheeses. Refusing to believe it could be a cheese allergy, we searched the cheese ingredients and found that they typically color yellow cheeses. WHAT? Yes, folks. Cheese is not yellow. It is, in fact, white. Even cheddar. The coloring they use isn’t unnatural – it’s called annatto, and it’s a tropical fruit that we don’t eat (at least not in the U.S.), but we commonly use it to color our foods. But it’s also a pretty common allergen (at least one the UK acknowledges.) And my sweet son is among those allergic.
We’ve since had an allergy test performed and they didn’t test for the food coloring allergy (helpful, right?), but we also found out that we’re dealing with a mold allergy. So canned fruit and raw mushrooms are also a no-no.
My son’s reaction isn’t the one you read about most of the time. If you search the internet for “food coloring allergies,” you’ll find articles about families whose children have moderate to severe behavioural issues when they consume food-coloring, and some FDA reports stating that the majority of foods with food dyes in them are sweets that would cause that sort of behaviour (which is not true, by the way.) For my son, there’s nothing subjective about it. A sip of red soda and he looks like he just came from the burn unit. A bite of a regular pickle, and he gets the most horrendous migraine, complete with extreme sound and light sensitivity (and, since he’s two and has no idea how to handle a migraine, it means a LOT of screaming). And try as we might to avoid these allergens, they are absolutely everywhere. The dentist’s office? That polish is full of Red 40. Your hair dye? Lipstick? Markers? What about that bright blue naproxen pill? (Oh yeah, that’s why the Benadryl never worked — kids’ medicines are FULL of food dyes.)
When I discovered the reason my son was suffering, I was astonished. Red 40 was causing rashes, eczema and hives, Yellow 5 was causing migraines (in a 2 year old – can you imagine?), and now a sliver of either could very easily land him in the hospital with respiratory failure. I couldn’t be more grateful that I discovered the correlation when I did.
So why am I writing all of this? For you. I’ve talked to many many moms that have children with uncontrolled eczema, or even uncontrollable behaviour, and I can’t help but share our story of healing. We’re thankful that God gave us healing in the form of wisdom for this season. And I’m personally thankful that I’m now aware of how many chemicals we’re being fed regularly. (Gross, right?) And I’m still praying that God will give us a complete healing in time. But if you or your child are experiencing anything that you refuse to believe is normal, I want you to know that it’s possible that you’re absolutely right. It might be something crazy, but you might be able to help it.
Are you as surprised as I was to learn that synthetic food dyes are harmful – even toxic – ingredients? If you want to eliminate artificial food coloring from your family’s diet, check out my tips here.