Why Flamin' Hot Cheetos are sending kids to ER

By: Michelle Castillo, CBS Email
By: Michelle Castillo, CBS Email

It's not only the schools: Some doctors are taking issue with Flamin' Hot Cheetos because they are leading to unnecessary emergency room visits.

Several school districts in New Mexico, California and Illinois have made the move to ban the snacks from their campuses because they lack nutritional value, and research suggests the snacks may create a brain response similar to what is seen in individuals who are addicted to illicit substances. But, medical professionals are saying there's other health fears associated with the snack that are leading to doctor's visits.

Because the spicy snack contains a lot of red food dye, it can turn the stools of people who eat large quantities red or orange. Parents and kids may mistakenly assume that it is a sign of blood in the stool, leading to panicked trip to the hospital.

The good news is that nothing is probably wrong, according to experts.

"Food such as beets or red peppers can make stool appear red, however it is not actually blood in the stool," Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician for Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told CBSNews.com.

Other foods with dyes that have also been reported to cause red stool include the dye found in red velvet cake.

But, St. Louis Children's Hospital pediatrician Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann pointed out to CBS station KMOX-TV in St. Louis, Mo. that you have to eat quite a bit of the red snack to see red in your stool. It may be it may be a sign of another health risk -- over-eating.

"So even though we might eat some foods with red food dye in them regularly, our stool doesn't usually become discolored unless you eat huge amounts of it," Berchelmann said. "Flamin' Hot Cheetos is one food that people will eat enormous amounts of and will see a change in their stool."

Glatter said that active bleeding from the upper gastrointestinal tract -- which includes the esophagus, stomach, duodenum and the first portion of the small bowel -- actually leads to stool that is black in color. Bleeding from the lower gastrointestinal tract, which includes the most of the small intestine, tends to be bright red or maroon in color.

To confirm if you are bleeding, doctors will run a fecal occult blood test. There are some other foods that can cause a false positive for blood in stool, including red meat, melons, (including cantaloupe), figs, horseradish, cauliflower, turnips and radishes so if you have been eating a lot of these items be sure to tell your doctor.

But red stool isn't the only problem that is sending kids who eat Flamin' Hot Cheetos to the ER.

"A number of patients who have consumed these Cheetos in excess have complained of pain in their upper abdomen, rising up into their chest, likely due to due to the red peppers and spice contained in the snack," Glatter said.

He warned that people with a history of GERD or gastroesophageal reflux -- which may cause heartburn and acid reflux -- should avoid the spicy treat because it can lead to a flare-up of their conditions.


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