Common food dye may trigger inflammatory bowel diseases

A recent study identified Allura Red food dye as a potential trigger for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

The study was published in the journal, Nature Communications, and led by Waliul Khan, PhD, professor of pathology and molecular medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Allura Red, the study explained, is a commonly found ingredient in candies, soda, dairy products, and some cereals. The dye is used to add color and texture to foods, often with the goal of attracting children.

According to the study’s authors, Allura Red has become significantly more popular over the last several decades, however little research has been done on its effect on gut health. For this investigation, Khan and a team of researchers sought to better understand how this food dye impacts inflammation in the gut.

To observe the impacts of Allura Red on gut health, researchers exposed mice to the substance for 12 weeks. The study found that chronic exposure to the dye directly impaired gut barrier function, increased the production of serotonin, and altered the gut microbiota composition. As a result, the mice had an increased susceptibility to colitis. Researchers found no association between intermittent exposure of Allura Red and increased susceptibility to colitis in mice. However, results did suggest that intermittent exposure to the dye during early life primed mice to be more susceptible to colitis.

Further research is needed to determine the effect of Allura Red on humans, but according to Kahn, this study should serve as a warning of the potential harms of the food dye.

“This study demonstrates significant harmful effects of Allura Red on gut health and identifies gut serotonin as a critical factor mediating these effects,” he said. “These findings have important implication in the prevention and management of gut inflammation.”