Did Red Food Dye Give You Bowel Disease?

written by Skye Sherman - Mar 13, 2023

Photo Credit: by Shirley810, Pixabay.com
Photo Credit: by Shirley810, Pixabay.com

If there was an ingredient found in millions of food products that could be linked to serious disease, you would want to know about it, right?

Recent studies suggest this may be the case with Allura Red AC, better known as Red 40 or red food dye. (Other names for the same chemical are FD&C Red 40 and Food Red 17.)

Red 40 is an artificial food coloring and flavoring agent that is included in many processed foods and beverages, especially in the United States; it is illegal in many other countries, including much of Europe.

As WPTV reports, “Red 40 dye is found in countless candies in the U.S., but it is among the food dyes that require warning labels in Europe. The European Food Safety Authority pointed to a 2007 study that found a mixture included in the dye increased hyperactivity in kids. The Food and Drug Administration said certain children may be sensitive to dyes like Red 40, and that parents can use ingredient labels to choose foods with fewer color additives.”

This potential hazard of Red 40 has been known for many years. However, recent research reveals its danger may be even more widespread than many people knew. New studies are linking red food dye to inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. IBD is a very common range of conditions experienced by millions in the United States. Perhaps the two facts are linked.

Want to learn more about this potentially unsafe food additive? Read on for all you need to know.

The basics of red food dye: Where is it hiding?

The information being released about red food dye is concerning, to say the least. For years, sensitive parents of school-aged children would go to great lengths to prevent their children from being fed red food dye at school or other kids’ birthday parties. Now, with the research being released about how it can affect both adults and children, it seems they were onto something.

New studies show that exposure to Allura Red AC, or Red 40, can harm one’s gut health and promote inflammation. If red food dye is even potentially dangerous, why is it used at all? And where exactly is Red 40 hiding in our daily diets?

SciTechDaily explains it this way: “Allura Red (also called FD&C Red 40 and Food Red 17), is a common ingredient in food ranging from candies and soft drinks to dairy products and breakfast cereals.”

In typical use, the dye is added to foods to improve their color and texture, which is often a tactic to attract children or make certain foods more appealing to them. Obviously, this is even greater cause for concern. Critics point out that the main purpose of Red 40 food dye is just to make junk food look more appealing to children, which really isn’t doing society any favors.

How dangerous is Red 40?

We are seeing more and more research about the potential harmful effects of Red 40, from behavioral problems to gut health and beyond. But this information is not necessarily new.

Did you know it has long been banned from certain products because of a potential link to cancer?

The Washington Post reports: “In 1990, the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of red dye No. 3 — also known as erythrosine or FD&C Red No. 3 — in cosmetics and externally applied drugs, based on its analysis of unpublished animal research suggesting a link to thyroid cancer. But the agency still allows its use in thousands of foods, dietary supplements and ingested drugs.”

If something that could cause cancer when applied externally is being consumed by millions of Americans, especially children, on a daily basis, don’t you think you might want to rethink including it in your kids’ lunches?

Another important fact to consider is how widely food dyes are used in processed foods. The New York Post reports: “Food colorants such as Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 can be found in a majority of products in the US – 90%, to be strikingly exact.”

The article goes on to explain, “A new study from Cornell and Binghamton University researchers adds evidence to recent theories that common food dyes, which give your favorite supermarket snacks and confections their vibrant colors, are doing damage to your digestive system.”

Since we know that gut health is linked to overall health and many other important bodily systems and functions, this is vital to beware of as we make dietary decisions each day.

At this point, a better question to ask is whether Red 40 is truly adding more benefits to foods than the harm it is causing. And another important thing to note is that it’s not only found in foods that appear red visually, so simply avoiding red foods will not cut it.

Is Red 40 harming our guts?

New research out of McMaster University suggests that there’s a link between red food dye and one of the most common conditions in America: inflammatory bowel disease.

SciTechDaily goes on to explain: “Long-term consumption of Allura Red food dye can be a potential trigger of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.” Millions of people take prescription medications like Asacol or even Prednisone (which can decrease inflammation in the body) for such conditions.

How exactly was this discovered? The report goes on to share: “Using experimental animal models of IBD, researchers discovered that continual exposure to Allura Red AC harms gut health and promotes inflammation. The dye directly disrupts gut barrier function and increases the production of serotonin, a hormone/neurotransmitter found in the gut, which subsequently alters gut microbiota composition, leading to increased susceptibility to colitis.”

IBDs are “serious chronic inflammatory conditions of the human bowel that affect millions of people worldwide” and we have spent several decades studying how they may be influenced genetically. However, research into environmental factors has lagged behind until now. It seems that environmental triggers and dietary choices may also play a big part.

The Independent puts it another way: “...new animal testing reveals the dye disrupts the way the gut barrier works, harming gut health, encouraging inflammation, and potentially triggering inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.”

Gut health is a necessary component of overall health and wellness. If research suggests that a certain widespread additive is harming gut health at large, it may be time to ban or eliminate this ingredient from our daily diets.

Of course, the makers of Red 40 defend its use, pointing out that it has been a widespread and common food additive for decades, so it can’t be all bad. Still, it seems Red 40’s days are numbered as more research against it comes into the public sphere.



Leave your comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *.

Enter Code:
not case-sensitive

While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.