Food Dye Red 40 Linked to Bowel Diseases, New Study Finds

A popular food coloring found in Skittles, Doritos, and other common foods can lead to intestinal disease, according to a new study published December 20 in the scientific journal, Nature Communications. A team of scientists found that long-term use of a food additives called Red 40, or Allura Red AC, can cause Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

“This study shows significant harmful effects of Allura Red on gut health and identifies gut serotonin as a critical factor mediating these effects,” said Waliul Khan, senior author of the study, a professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and principal investigator of the Research Institute. Farncombe Family Digestive Health, in a statement. “These findings have important implications in the prevention and management of intestinal inflammation.”

Khan called his team’s findings “highlighting and alarming,” and urged the public to take this news seriously. “This research is a significant step forward in making people aware of the potential dangers of food coloring that we consume every day,” he said.

So, what exactly is Red 40 food coloring and what foods is it most commonly found in? Read on for the full findings of the new study and check your diet against this new intel. And for even more, educate yourself on the 23 Worst Food Additives in America.


The team studied a group of mice, giving them a “dose” of Red 40 “found in a commonly used nutritional product” for 12 weeks and found that it “exacerbated an experimental model of colitis.”

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The researchers also found that “exposure to AR during early life made mice more susceptible to colitis,” due to an artificial color marker found in neuroendocrine intestinal cells.

Neuroendocrine cells are cells in the lining of the intestinal tract that are responsible for producing and releasing hormones and other signaling molecules in response to various stimuli, including mechanical and chemical signals from the digestive tract and nervous system.

Neuroendocrine cells play an important role in the regulation of various bodily functions, including digestion, metabolism, and immune function. If it’s disrupted, you can get inflammatory bowel disease due to inflammation, ulcers or disruption of healthy gut bacteria.

This explains the possible link between eating red food coloring and developing bowel disease.


Red 40 is a synthetic food coloring commonly used in various food and beverage products to give them a reddish color. It is approved for use as a food coloring in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The additive is derived from petroleum and is produced through a chemical process involving the reaction of petroleum-derived intermediates with various chemicals. It is often used in conjunction with other food coloring to create a variety of different colors and shades.

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Red 40 is used in a wide variety of products, including candy, baked goods, cereals and soft drinks. Some examples of brands that use Red 40 in their products include:

  • Skittles
  • M&M
  • Starburst
  • Jelly Belly
  • Twizzlers
  • Fanta
  • Mountain Dew
  • Doritos

It is important to note that not all products from this brand will contain Red 40. Check the ingredient list on food packaging to determine if a product contains Red 40 or any other potentially controversial ingredients.


As reported, the new study was conducted in mice, not humans; other studies have suggested that Red 40 may be associated with child behavior problemsand it has also been proven to cause allergic reaction in some individuals, especially those who are allergic to food coloring.

Despite these concerns, parties FDA has determined that Red 40 is safe to consume when used in amounts normally found in food products. In 2011, the agency reviewed it for safety—saying of Allura Red: “In the US, this color can be certified as FD&C Red No. 40 and approved for use in food coloring, drugs and cosmetics.”

The FDA revised its findings in 2019 and maintained its position.

However, it is important for you to be aware of the potential risks associated with the use of synthetic food dyes such as Red 40, and to consider these risks when making your own daily food choices.

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One danger of food additives is their potential to disrupt the body’s natural hormones. Some food additives, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system and may be linked to a variety of health problems, including fertility issues, obesity and certain types of cancer.

These additives are found in a variety of products, including plastic containers and packaging materials that can leach into food and beverages. To avoid this, look for products that are “BPA Free.”

Another additive linked to health risks is trans fat. These unhealthy fats are often found in processed foods, such as baked goods and fried foods, and have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and other serious health problems.

Trans fats are formed when liquid vegetable oils are partially hydrogenated, a process that gives the oil a longer shelf life and makes it more stable at high temperatures. Although trans fats have largely been phased out of the food supply in recent years, they are still found in some products, so it’s important to check food labels carefully.

For more information on the dangers of food additives, see our definitive list The 23 Worst Food Additives in America.


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