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Food dye linked to inflammatory bowel diseases

Allura Red – also called FD&C Red 40 and Food Red 17 – is a common ingredient in candies, soft drinks, dairy products, and certain types of cereals. This synthetic food dye is used to add color and texture to these products, often to attract children. Although, over the past decades, the use of such food dyes has increased substantially, there has been little research on how their consumption could affect gut health.

Now, a team of researchers led by McMaster University in Canada has found that long-term consumption of Allura Red could be a potential trigger of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) –  which affect millions of people worldwide – in mice under laboratory conditions. While previous studies have argued that dysregulated immune responses, genetic factors, and gut microbiota imbalances can give rise to IBDs, no studies have yet investigated the impact of environmental factors on these health conditions.

“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 implication in the prevention and management of gut inflammation,” said study senior author Waliul Khan, a professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster.

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

Thus, typical Western diets that include processed fats, red and processed meats, sugar, and little fiber – together with large amounts of various additives and dyes – could act as major environmental triggers of IDBs. Further experimental, epidemiological, and clinical studies on the connection between widely used food dyes and the development of such health issues are needed.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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