IBD: Common red food coloring causes intestinal inflammation, colitis


Chronic inflammation of the digestive tract is a hallmark of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Globally, there were about 6.8 million cases of IBD in 2017. Trusted Source Around 3 million adults in the United States, or 1.3% of the population, had IBD in 2015.

mounting evidence

According to a reliable source, nutrition has a significant impact on the emergence of IBD.

The gut flora and intestinal function may be impacted by food additives like titanium dioxide, which is used to give food an opaque, white hue.

More investigation on the effects of food additives on intestinal health could raise public awareness and influence dietary guidelines.

In a recent study, scientists evaluated the impacts of the red food dye “Allura Red” (AR), one of the most popular food colorants globally, particularly in the United States.

A chronic illness characterized by inflammation of the inner lining of the colon, colitis, was found to be more common in mice exposed to AR early in life. The results also demonstrated that mild colitis was brought on by long-term AR exposure.

Which foods contain red dye?

Chronic intestinal inflammation has been linked to Western diets that are high in additives, fats, sugar, and red meat and poor in fiber.

Food additives, emulsifiers, and artificial colorants are frequently used to enhance the flavor, texture, and appearance of food.


Allura Red is a color additive that is frequently used in processed foods like candy, snacks, soft beverages, dairy items, and cereals, including:

  • Skittles
  • Strawberry Fanta
  • Doritos Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips
  • Froot Loops
  • Nabisco Oreo Winter Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Food coloring affects serotonin, induces colitis

The following popular food colorings were tested for the study to see how they affected serotonin synthesis:

  • AR
  • Brilliant Blue FCF
  • Sunset Yellow FCF
  • Tartrazine Yellow

Although all of the colorants stimulated serotonin production, they discovered that AR had the strongest impact. Thus, they conducted additional research on AR in mice fed various diets for 12 weeks:

  • standard chow diet
  • daily AR-infused diet
  • AR-infused diet 1 day per week

The amount of AR consumed was determined using human daily consumption guidelines. Seven days after the diet, exposure to a chemical was used to cause colitis.

They discovered that intermittent AR exposure, which is the closest thing to human exposure, did not raise colitis susceptibility.

The mice who ingested AR on a daily basis, however, developed moderate colitis, which was associated with increased serotonin levels and poorer intestinal food absorption.

Red food dye causes intestinal inflammation

The researchers discovered identical results from subsequent studies, regardless of whether AR was ingested in food or drink.

They also looked into the results of young mice being exposed to AR. For 4 weeks, they gave 4-week-old mice either a regular chow meal or an AR through diet.


They discovered that early AR exposure caused low-grade colonic inflammation and changed the expression of genes associated with antimicrobial responses.

Further research revealed that in animals lacking tryptophan hydroxylase 1 (TPH1), an enzyme needed for the gut’s serotonin synthesis, AR did not increase the susceptibility to colitis.

As a result, they concluded, AR influences the gut microbiota by way of the serotonergic system.

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