In a study from McMaster University, scientists found long-term intake of Allura Red food dye can be a potential trigger of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The dye directly disrupts gut barrier function and increases the production of serotonin, a hormone/neurotransmitter found in the gut.
This then alters gut microbiota composition leading to increased susceptibility to colitis.
Allura Red (also called FD&C Red 40 and Food Red 17), is a common ingredient in candies, soft drinks, dairy products and some cereals.
The dye is used to add color and texture to foodstuffs, often to attract children.
The use of synthetic food dyes such as Allura Red has increased strongly over the last several decades, but there has been a little earlier study of these dyes’ effects on gut health.
The team says their study shows big harmful 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
This research is a significant advance in alerting the public to the potential harm of food dyes that we consume daily.
Previous research suggests that the consumption of Allura Red also affects certain allergies, immune disorders and behavioral problems in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The team says 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.
In recent years there has been significant progress in identifying susceptibility genes and understanding the role of the immune system and host microbiota in the pathogenesis of IBDs.
However, similar advances in defining environmental risk factors have lagged.
The team says that environmental triggers for IBDs include the typical Western diet, which includes processed fats, red and processed meats, sugar, and a lack of fiber.
They add that the Western diet and processed food also include large amounts of various additives and dyes.
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The study was conducted by Waliul Khan et al and published in Nature Communications.
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