Allura Red is an artificial food dye that is also called FD&C Red 40 or Food Red 17. It can be found in soft drinks, candy, dairy products, and some cereals, and the texture and color it adds to food is often used to appeal to children. New research has shown that long-term exposure to Allura Red may trigger the onset of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), an umbrella term for gut disorders such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. In animal models, continuous consumption of the food dye caused damage to the gut and promoted inflammation. Chronic inflammation is known to lead to disease. The findings have been reported in Nature Communications.
The incidence of IBD is rising in areas where western diets are popular; these diets are characterized by low levels of fiber and high levels of sugars, red meat, fats, and additives, like preservatives, emulsifiers and colorants. The western diet also tends to lead to intestinal inflammation and changes the gut microbiome.
The researchers determined that Allura Red food dye interferes with the important intestinal barrier, which keeps microbes that live in the gut, and the molecules they generate, sequestered from the rest of the body - when the barrier is functioning properly. This study also showed that Allura Red increases serotonin production in the gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can affect the microbiome and disrupts the intestinal barrier, increasing the risk of IBD.
This research has shown that Allura Red has "significant harmful effects" that are mediated by serotonin in the gut, and this study has crucial implications for "the prevention and management of gut inflammation," said senior study author Professor Waliul I. Khan of McMaster University.
"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," Khan added. "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."
While scientists are elucidating how genetic and microbial factors can influence IBD, we still have more to learn about the environmental impacts on the disease, said Khan. This research has suggested that there is a connection between IBD development and common food dyes, and that more research is warranted to understand how these additives may be affecting public health.
Sources: McMaster University, Nature Communications