Popular food coloring linked to gut inflammation and colitis: Study

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Recent research shows that long-term consumption of Allura Red (AR), a commonly used synthetic color additive, can trigger inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) and colitis.

Also known as Red 40, AR is one of nine synthetic dyes approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in food. Manufacturers prefer synthetic dyes to natural ones extracted from animals and plants because they cost less, provide a brighter, more uniform color, and don’t introduce unwanted flavors.

In a study published Dec. 20 in Nature Communications, scientists at McMaster University in Canada investigated the impact of RA exposure on gut health. Using an experimental animal model, they found that chronic consumption of the dye can 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 a statement. press.

For the study, scientists examined the effects of several widely used food dyes on serotonin production, including AR, Brilliant Blue FCF, Sunset Yellow FCF, and Tartrazine Yellow. While all of these dyes promoted serotonin secretion, the AR was found to have the most pronounced effect.

The scientists then proceeded to feed groups of mice different diets for 12 weeks. One group was fed normal food as a control; another was fed AR-infused food every day; and the other received RA-infused food only one day a week. The amount of RA added to the diet was calculated according to levels considered acceptable for humans.

When colitis was induced by exposure to a chemical seven days after eating, the scientists found that the group of mice that occasionally consumed RA – more similar to the pattern in humans – did not become more vulnerable to colitis. Those mice that ate RA-infused food for 12 consecutive weeks, however, developed mild colitis.

The same effects were also seen in mice when AR was added to water instead of food, according to the study.

To further investigate the effect of early exposure to RA, the scientists performed another controlled experiment by feeding 4-week-old mice either standard chow or RA infusion for 14 weeks. As a result, they found that young mice exposed to RA developed mild inflammation in their colons, with genes that regulate antimicrobial responses less actively expressed.

“This is particularly important as synthetic dyes are a convenient and low-cost alternative for food manufacturers to make food even brighter and more attractive to the customer, particularly young children,” they noted in the study.

Waliul Khan, lead author of the study and a professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster, said these findings should alert consumers to the potential harm of food additives.

“What we found is both impressive and alarming, as this common synthetic food coloring is a possible dietary trigger for IBDs,” Khan said. “This research is a significant step forward in making the public aware of the potential harms of the food dyes we consume on a daily basis.”

“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.

It has long been suspected that exposure to synthetic food dyes at a young age can cause ADHD. According to the California government’s 2021 review (pdf) of scientific studies 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, puddings, candy, chewing gum, soft drinks, energy drinks and confections.

Bill Pan

Bill Pan is a reporter for the Epoch Times.