Common Food Dye Can Trigger Inflammatory Bowel Disease

A new study suggests that Allura Red food dye, a common ingredient in candies and soft drinks, can be a potential trigger of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

The study from McMaster University published in the journal Nature Communications was conducted using experimental animal models of IBDs. It found that continual exposure to Allura Red AC dye harms gut health and promotes inflammation.

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

“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,” McMaster University researcher Waliul Khan said.

Allura Red, which is also known as FD&C Red 40 and Food Red 17, is used to add color and texture to foods, often to attract children.

“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,” Khan added.

What is inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease is a term that describes conditions characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The most common IBDs are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. An estimated 3.1 million adults (1.3%) in the US have been diagnosed with IBD.

Ulcerative colitis involves inflammation and ulcers along the lining of the colon and rectum, while Crohn’s disease most commonly affects the small intestine.

Scientists still don’t know what exactly causes inflammatory bowel diseases. One possible cause is an atypical immune response to an invading virus or bacterium when the immune system also starts attacking the cells in the digestive tract. Gene mutations and heredity have also been linked to IBDs.

Khan from McMaster University says that one of the environmental triggers for IBDs is the typical Western diet, which contains processed fats, red and processed meats, sugar, and a lack of fiber. In the Western diet, processed food also has many additives and dyes.

Symptoms of IBDs may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Blood in your stool
  • Reduced appetite
  • Unintended weight loss

Some other symptoms associated with IBDs are redness or pain in the eyes, mouth sores, and swollen and painful joints.

The risk factors for the disease are age under 30, being white, having a family history of IBDs, smoking cigarettes, and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

There is no cure for IBDs, but symptoms can be managed with medication, specific diets, and lifestyle changes.

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