Potential risks of tartrazine (2023)

Tartrazine is a synthetic yellow food coloring. It is also called FD&C Yellow #5. Tartrazine is one of several azo food dyes made from petroleum products and among several food dyes and additives that have been studied for possible health effects.

Yellow #5 adds color to make food and soft drinks more attractive. It is also approved for use in pills and other medications, as well as personal care products such as skin care products, shampoos, and cosmetics. Some textile manufacturers also use azo dyes such as tartrazine.

This article covers allergies and other health issues involving tartrazine, as well as a list of foods that commonly list Yellow #5 as an ingredient and how to tell if it is present.

Potential risks of tartrazine (1)

Other names for tartrazine

In all, there are over 100 names for tartrazine that can be found on a product's label. Some of them include:

  • E 102
  • Gelber See 69
  • Yellow food 4
  • Yellow acid 23
  • trisodisch

Tartrazine and health effects

Tartrazine has long been suspected to be the cause of various symptoms and health problems, although not all have been supported by research. Some suspicious reactions are:

  • Urticaria(Urticaria)
  • Angioedema(swelling of the lips, tongue, throat and throat caused by the release of histamine during an allergic reaction)
  • Asma
  • atopic dermatitis(Rashes related to allergies)
  • food intolerances

Is tartrazine still used?

Yes, Yellow #5 is still in use. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that products containing tartrazine list the ingredient on the product label. "Yellow No. 5" may also appear on the ingredient list of food or cosmetics.

Side effects of food additives and preservatives

Research on tartrazine

Tartrazine can be harmful to humans, although the FDA has approved its use in certain products. However, researchers continue to work to link the yellow number 5 to health effects, including childhood behavior disorders or cancer.

Studies focus on the way tartrazine:

  • Toxic to genes (genotoxicity)
  • Toxic to body cells (cytotoxicity)
  • Causing genetic mutations (mutagenicity)

Much of the research on Yellow #5 is done on animals, and evidence-based science on its effects on humans remains lacking. However, the use of azo food dyes has been banned elsewhere outside the United States.

Where is yellow #5 forbidden?

Tartrazine is FDA approved for use in the United States. In some countries, like Norway, Yellow #5 has been banned in the past, as have other azo food colors. In 2013, the European Union decided that "the overall weight of the evidence" did not support the finding that yellow #5 was genotoxic, but the decision required further investigation.


Tartrazine appears to be a neurotoxin (toxic to brain cells) in rat studies. Tartrazine is thought to affect the nervous system of rats in ways that include problems with spatial memory and more.

Rats given tartrazine showed a range of changes in their central nervous system, including a lack of neurotransmitters in the brain. Increased cell death in the brain was also observed. It is not known whether these changes also affect humans.

Studies on tartrazine in rats

Tartrazine's effect in rats is significant, so other agents were tested along with Yellow #5 to see if they could play a protective role against the damage tartrazine inflicts on the nervous system.A 2017 study in mice found that administration of vitamin E (a neuroprotective agent) can prevent the structural and behavioral changes caused by tartrazine.

behavior problems in children

The effects of tartrazine are the focus of some studies conducted on human children to assess behavioral changes.

Research into the use of artificial food coloring (AFC) in children found that large doses (defined as 50 milligrams or more of AFC) produced a greater adverse effect in children than children who received less.

The use of synthetic food colors has increased by 500% in the last 50 years. At the same time, behavioral problems such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have increased.

However, there have been many changes during this period beyond the introduction of artificial food colors and this correlation is not yet definitive.

The connection between red dye 40 and ADHD


A DNA repair study found that tartrazine had no cytotoxic effects (damage to cells) but significant genotoxic effects (damage to DNA) at all concentrations tested. This damage can cause genetic mutations that lead to cancer.

The study found that most damage was repairable, but some damage persisted even 24 hours after exposure in samples exposed to tartrazine, as opposed to those not exposed. The conclusion was that prolonged exposure to tartrazine could induce carcinogenesis.

It is important to note that even when DNA is damaged, many repair systems (such asTumorsuppressorgene) can repair this damage.

What is a carcinogen?

Tartrazine during pregnancy

Tartrazine and its effects during pregnancy are not well understood. Animal studies of prenatal exposure to artificial food colors have revealed some issues, such as: B. Decreased motivation and anxiety in rat pups exposed during pregnancy.

Research on tartrazine in pregnant rats also suggests:

  • liver damage
  • kidney damage
  • Cardiomegaly(increased heart size)
  • Missing limbs and other skeletal deformities

Research in pregnant animals does not mean there are potential problems in human babies. However, what these animal studies suggest is that more research is needed until more is known.

How to avoid tartrazine

Tartrazine is found in many foods. While many products are labeled, others, such as ice cream and desserts, may not be labeled.

Foods that contain tartrazine include:

  • certain breakfast cereals
  • Chilled rolls and quick breads
  • cake mixes
  • commercial cakes
  • commercial gingerbread
  • Karamell-Chips
  • commercial coverage
  • Certain instant and regular puddings
  • Certain ice creams and sorbets
  • certain candy coatings
  • hard balls
  • Marshmallows Coloridos
  • flavored carbonated drinks
  • flavored drink mixes

Tartrazine is also used in several other products. They include:

  • cosmetics and fragrances
  • hair care preparations including coloring preparations
  • hand soaps, creams and lotions
  • shaving products
  • pet products

The best way to avoid Yellow #5 is to check the labels on these foods and products.

A word from Verywell

Tartrazine is approved for use in the US and can be found in many foods and personal care products. While some studies suggest it could have health effects on animals and humans, more research is needed. Ask your doctor for more information if you have questions about yellow dye #5 and food coloring.

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Verywell Health uses only quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to back up the facts in our articles. Read ourseditorial processto learn more about how we fact-check our content and keep it accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Brüschweiler BJ, Merlot C.Azo dyes in apparel textiles can be cleaved to a number of mutagenic aromatic amines that are not yet regulated..Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. August 2017;88:214-226. doi:10.1016/j.yrtph.2017.06.012.

  2. Contact the Dermatitis Institute.Tartrazin.

  3. Rajan, J., Simon, R., and J. Bosso.Prevalence of sensitivity to food and drug additives in patients with chronic idiopathic urticaria.Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, in Practice. 2014. 2(2):168-71. doi:10.1016/j.jaip.2013.10.002

  4. Soares BM, Araújo TM, Ramos JA, Pinto LC, Khayat BM, De Oliveira Bahia M,and other.Effects on DNA repair in human lymphocytes exposed to the food dye tartrazine yellow.Res. Anti-Krebs. 2015 Mar;35(3):1465-74. PMID: 25750299.

  5. European Food Safety Authority.food coloring.

  6. Mohamed AA, Galal AA, Elewa YH.Comparative protective effects of royal jelly and cod liver oil against the neurotoxic effects of tartrazine on the brain of male rat pups.Acta Histochem. Set 2015;117(7):649-58. doi:10.1016/j.acthis.2015.07.002

  7. Rafati A., Nourzei N., Karbalay-Doust S., Noorafshan A.Use of vitamin E to prevent tartrazine-induced behavioral impairment, cell loss and dendritic changes in medial prefrontal cortex in rats.Acta Histochem. 2017 Mar;119(2):172-180. doi:10.1016/j.acthis.2017.01.004

  8. Stevens, L., Burgess, J., Stochelski, M., and T. Kuczek.Amounts of artificial colors in commonly consumed beverages and possible behavioral implications for consumption in children.clinical pediatrics. 2014. 53(2):133-40. doi:10.1177/0009922813502849

  9. Doguc DK, Aylak F, Ilhan I, Kulac E, Gultekin F.Are there noticeable effects of prenatal exposure to food dyes on neurobehaviour and learning in rat pups??Nutritional Neuroscience. 2015. 18(1):12-21. doi:10.1179/1476830513Y.0000000095

  10. Sambu S., Hemaram U., Murugan R., Alsofi AA.Toxicological and teratogenic effects of various food additives: an updated review.Biomed Res Int. 24. Juni 2022;2022:6829409. doi:10.1155/2022/6829409.

Additional reading

Potential risks of tartrazine (2)

VonDaniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.

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