Allura Red (also called FD&C Red 40 and Food Red 17), is a common ingredient in candy, soft drinks, dairy products, and some cereals — ScienceDaily

Long-term consumption of Allura Red food coloring can be a potential trigger for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis, says Waliul Khan of McMaster University. Researchers using experimental animal models of IBD found that continued exposure to Allura Red AC impairs gut health and promotes inflammation.

The dye directly disrupts intestinal barrier function and increases the production of serotonin, a hormone/neurotransmitter found in the intestine, which subsequently alters the composition of the intestinal microbiota and increases susceptibility to colitis.

Khan said Allura Red (also called FD&C Red 40 and Food Red 17) is a common ingredient in candy, soft drinks, dairy products and some cereals. The dye is used to add color and texture to food, often to appeal to children.

The use of synthetic food colors like Allura Red has increased significantly in recent decades, but there have been few previous studies on the effects of these colors on gut health. Khan and his team published their findings in nature communications. Yun Han (Eric) Kwon, who recently completed his PhD in Khan’s lab, is the first author.

“This study demonstrates significant detrimental 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,” Khan said, The study’s lead author, Professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and Principal Investigator at the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute.

“What we have found is surprising and alarming, as this common synthetic food coloring is a potential dietary trigger for IBD. This research is a significant advance in alerting the public to the potential harms of the food coloring we consume every day.” said.

“Literature suggests that Allura Red consumption also affects certain allergies, immune disorders, and behavioral problems in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

Khan said that IBDs are severe chronic inflammatory conditions of the human intestine that affect millions of people around the world. While their exact causes are still not fully understood, studies have shown that dysregulated immune responses, genetic factors, gut microbiota imbalances, and environmental factors can trigger these conditions.

In recent years there has been significant progress in the identification of susceptibility genes and the understanding of the role of the immune system and the host microbiota in the pathogenesis of IBD. However, similar advances in defining environmental risk factors have been delayed, he said.

Khan said environmental triggers for IBD include the typical Western diet, which includes processed fats, red and processed meats, sugar, and a lack of fiber. He added that the Western diet and processed foods also include large amounts of various additives and colourings.

He added that the study suggests a link between a commonly used food coloring and IBD and warrants further exploration between food coloring and IBD at the experimental, epidemiological, and clinical levels.

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

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