Waliul Khan of McMaster University says long-term consumption of Allura Red food coloring may be a potential trigger for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Using experimental animal models of IBD, researchers found that sustained exposure to Allura Red AC harms gut health and increases inflammation.
The dye directly disrupts gut barrier function and increases the production of serotonin, a hormone/neurotransmitter found in the gut, which in turn alters gut microbiota composition, leading to increased susceptibility to colitis.
Khan said Allura Red (also called FD&C Red 40 and Food Red 17) is a common ingredient in candies, soft drinks, dairy products and some grains. Dye is used to add color and texture to food items, often to attract children.
The use of synthetic food dyes such as Allura Red has grown significantly over the past few decades, but there has been little previous study of the effects of these dyes on gut health. Khan and his team published their findings. Nature Communication. Yun Han (Eric) Kwon, who recently completed his doctorate in Khan’s lab, is the first author.
Professor Khan said: “This study demonstrates the significant deleterious effects of Allura Red on gut health and identifies gut serotonin as a critical factor mediating these effects. These findings have important implications for the prevention and management of gut inflammation.” Principal investigator of the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute.
“Since this common synthetic food coloring is a possible dietary trigger for IBDs, what we found is striking and alarming. This research is an important advance in alerting the public to the potential harms of food coloring we consume daily,” he said.
“The literature suggests that consumption of Allura Red also affects certain allergies, immune disorders, and behavioral problems in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
Khan said IBDs are serious chronic inflammatory conditions of the human gut that affect millions of people worldwide. While the exact causes are still not fully understood, research has shown that dysregulated immune responses, genetic factors, gut microbiota imbalances, and environmental factors can trigger these conditions.
In recent years, significant advances have been made in identifying susceptibility genes and understanding the role of the immune system and host microbiota in the pathogenesis of IBDs. But similar advances in identifying environmental risk factors have been delayed, he said.
Environmental triggers for IBDs include the typical Western diet, which includes processed fats, red and processed meats, sugar and a lack of fiber, Khan said. He added that the Western diet and processed foods also contain large amounts of various additives and dyes.
He added that the study suggests a link between a commonly used food coloring and IBDs and warrants further research between food dyes and IBDs at experimental, epidemiological and clinical levels.
The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
materials provided by McMaster University. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.