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Common food dye can trigger inflammatory bowel diseases: Research

by Vaishali Sharma
food colouring

According to McMaster University’s Waliul Khan, long-term usage of the food colour Allura Red may be a risk factor for IBDs, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. According to research using experimental animal models of IBD, continuous exposure to Allura Red AC is damaging to gut health and promotes inflammation.

The dye inhibits gut barrier function and increases serotonin production, an intestinal hormone/neurotransmitter that alters the makeup of the gut microbiota and increases the risk of colitis. According to Khan, Allura Red, also known as FD&C Red 40 and Food Red 17, is a common component in candy, soda, dairy products, and some cereals.

Foods are coloured and given texture with the dye, frequently to draw in children.

Over the past few decades, the usage of artificial food colours like Allura Red has grown considerably, but there hasn’t been much prior research on how these colours affect gut health. In Nature Communications, Khan and his team revealed the results of their research. The first author is Yun Han (Eric) Kwon, a recent PhD graduate working in Khan’s lab.

“This study demonstrates significant harmful effects of Allura Red on gut health and identifies gut serotonin as a critical factor mediating these effects. These findings have important implications in the prevention and management of gut inflammation,” said Khan, the study’s senior author, a professor of the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and a principal investigator of Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute.

“What we have found is striking and alarming, as this common synthetic food dye is a possible dietary trigger for IBDs. This research is a significant advance in alerting the public on the potential harms of food dyes that we consume daily,” he said.

“The literature suggests that the consumption of Allura Red also affects certain allergies, immune disorders and behavioural problems in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

Khan said that IBDs are serious chronic inflammatory conditions of the human bowel that affect millions of people worldwide. 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.

Significant progress has been made in identifying susceptibility genes and understanding the involvement of the immune system and host microbiota in the pathogenesis of IBDs in recent years. However, he claims that similar breakthroughs in pinpointing environmental risk factors have lagged.

Environmental factors for IBDs, according to Khan, include the usual Western diet, which contains processed fats, red and processed meats, sweets, and a lack of fibre. He went on to say that the Western diet and processed foods contain a lot of different chemicals and colours.

He went on to say that the findings reveals a relationship between a frequently used food colour and IBDs and that greater research into food dyes and IBDs is needed at the experimental, epidemiological, and clinical levels.

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