Popular food coloring linked to intestinal inflammation, colitis: studyThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Recent research shows that long-term consumption of Allura Red (AR), a commonly used synthetic color additive, can cause inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and colitis.
Also known as the Red 40, the AR is one of the nine synthetic colors approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in food. Manufacturers prefer synthetic dyes to natural ones derived from animals and plants because they cost less, provide a brighter and more uniform color and do not introduce unwanted aromas.
In a study published on December 20 in Nature Communications, scientists at McMaster University in Canada investigated the effects of AR exposure on gut health. Using an experimental animal model, they found that chronic consumption of the dye could cause mild intestinal inflammation in mice.
“The dye directly disrupts gut barrier function and increases the production of serotonin, a hormone/neurotransmitter found in the gut, which subsequently alters the composition of the gut microbiota, leading to increased susceptibility to colitis,” the scientists said in press release.
For the purpose of the study, the scientists examined the effects of several of the most widely used food dyes on serotonin production, including AR, Brilliant Blue FCF, Sunset Yellow FCF, and Tartrazine Yellow. Although all these dyes stimulated serotonin secretion, AR was found to have the most pronounced effect.
The scientists then switched to feeding groups of mice different diets for 12 weeks. One group was fed normal food as a control; another was fed AR-infused food daily; and the other received AR-infused food only one day per week. The amount of AR added to their diet was calculated according to levels considered acceptable to humans.
When colitis was induced by exposure to the chemical seven days after the meal, the scientists found that the group of mice that occasionally consumed AR — most similar to the human model — did not become more vulnerable to colitis. However, those mice that ate the AR diet for 12 consecutive weeks developed mild colitis.
The same effects were seen in mice when AR was added to water instead of food, according to the study.
To further investigate the effect of early AR exposure, the researchers performed another controlled experiment by feeding 4-week-old mice either standard chow or AR-infused chow for 14 weeks. As a result, they found that young mice exposed to AR developed mild inflammation in the colon, with genes regulating antimicrobial responses being less expressed.
“This is particularly important because synthetic colors are a convenient and inexpensive alternative for food manufacturers to make foods even brighter and more appealing to customers, especially young children,” they noted in the study.
Waliul Khan, lead author of the study and a professor in McMaster’s Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, said these findings should alert consumers to the potential harms of dietary supplements.
“What we found is striking and alarming because this common synthetic food dye is a possible dietary trigger for IBDs,” Hahn said. “This research is a significant step forward in alerting the public to the potential harms of the food dyes we consume every day.”
“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,” he added.
Exposure to synthetic food dyes at a young age has long been suspected to cause ADHD. According to the 2021 California Government Review (pdf) of research over the previous decade, consumption of synthetic food dyes, including AR, has caused hyperactivity and other neurobehavioral problems in at least some children.
AR is present in a wide range of foods and beverages, including cereals, dairy products, pudding, candy, chewing gum, soda, energy drinks, and sweets.
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