Recent research shows that long-term consumption of Allura Red (AR), a commonly used synthetic color additive, could trigger inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and colitis.
Also known as Red 40, AR is one of the nine synthetic color additives approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in food. Manufacturers prefer synthetic dyes to natural ones derived from animals and plants because they cost less, provide a more vivid and consistent color, and do not introduce off-flavors.
In a study published December 20 in nature communications, scientists from McMaster University in Canada investigated the impact of RA exposure on gut health. Using an experimental animal model, they found that chronic consumption of the dye could cause mild intestinal inflammation in mice.
“The dye directly disrupts intestinal barrier function and increases the production of serotonin, a hormone/neurotransmitter found in the intestine, which subsequently alters the composition of the intestinal microbiota, leading to increased susceptibility to colitis.” the scientists said in a statement. Press release.
For the study, the scientists examined the effects of several of the most commonly used food dyes on serotonin production, including AR, Brilliant Blue FCF, Sunset Yellow FCF, and Tartrazine Yellow. While all of these dyes had promoted serotonin secretion, AR was found to have the most pronounced effect.
The scientists then went on to feed groups of mice different diets for 12 weeks. One group was fed normal chow as a control; another was fed RA-infused food every day; and the other received RA-infused food just one day a week. The amount of AR added to their diet was calculated according to levels considered acceptable for humans.
When colitis was induced through exposure to a chemical seven days after feeding, the scientists found that the group of mice that occasionally consumed RA (most similar to the pattern in humans) did not become more vulnerable to colitis. . However, mice that ate RA-infused food for 12 consecutive weeks developed mild colitis.
The same effects were also seen in mice when AR was added to water instead of food, according to the study.
To further investigate the effect of early RA exposure, the scientists conducted another controlled experiment feeding 4-week-old mice standard or RA-infused chows for 14 weeks. As a result, they found that young mice exposed to RA developed mild inflammation in the colon, with genes regulating antimicrobial responses less actively expressed.
“This is particularly important as synthetic colors are a convenient, low-cost alternative for food manufacturers to make food even brighter and more appealing to the customer, particularly young children,” they noted in the study. .
Waliul Khan, lead author of the study and a professor in McMaster’s Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, said these findings should alert consumers to the potential harms of food additives.
“What we have found is surprising and alarming, as this common synthetic food coloring is a potential dietary trigger for IBD,” Khan said. “This research is a significant advance in alerting the public to the potential harms of the food colors we consume every day.”
“Literature suggests that Allura Red consumption also affects certain allergies, immune disorders, and behavioral problems in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” he added.
It has long been suspected that exposure to synthetic food dyes at a young age may cause ADHD. According to the 2021 California government review (pdf) of scientific studies over the previous decade, consumption of synthetic food colors, including AR, caused hyperactivity and other neurobehavioral problems in at least some children.
AR is present in a wide range of foods and beverages, including cereals, dairy products, puddings, candy, chewing gum, soft drinks, energy drinks, and candy.