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Common Food Colorings Can Trigger Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

McMaster researchers found that food coloring like Allura Red, used in sweets, soft drinks, dairy products, and some cereals, can induce inflammatory bowel disease.


According to Waliul Khan of McMaster University, long-term ingestion of the food color Allura Red may promote inflammatory bowel disorders (IBDs), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Using experimental animal models of IBD, researchers determined that continuous exposure to Allura Red AC is detrimental to gut health and increases inflammation.

The dye directly inhibits the function of the intestinal barrier and promotes the synthesis of serotonin, a hormone/neurotransmitter present in the stomach. This modifies the makeup of gut bacteria, hence increasing vulnerability to colitis.

Khan stated that Allura Red is a frequent additive in candies, soft beverages, dairy goods, and some cereals. The dye is utilized to impart color and texture to meals, often to attract youngsters.

In the last several decades, the use of synthetic food colors such as Allura Red has increased substantially, but little study has been conducted on the impacts of these dyes on gut health. The findings of Khan and his team were reported in Nature Communications. Yun Han (Eric) Kwon, who just earned his Ph.D. in Khan’s group, is the first author of the paper (Kwon et al., 2022).

This study identified gut serotonin as a crucial mediator of the detrimental effects of Allura Red on gut health. Khan, the study’s senior author, professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, and principal investigator at the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute stated that these findings have significant implications for the management and treatment of intestinal inflammation.

‘Our findings are startling and disturbing since this prevalent synthetic food color may be a trigger for IBDs. This research is a huge step forward in informing the public about the possible dangers of the daily food dyes we ingest’, he added.

Literature reveals that Allura Red intake also impacts some allergies, immunological illnesses, and behavioral issues in children, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

According to Khan, IBDs are severe chronic inflammatory disorders of the gastrointestinal tract that impact millions of individuals globally. Despite the fact that their precise origins are not yet fully known, studies have demonstrated that dysregulated immune responses, genetic factors, gut microbiome abnormalities, and environmental variables might induce these disorders.

In the last few years, great progress has been made in identifying susceptibility genes and comprehending the function of the immune system and host microbiota in the pathophysiology of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs). However, comparable developments in recognizing environmental risk factors have lagged behind, he stated.

Khan stated that the typical Western diet, which consists of processed fats, red and processed meats, sugary foods, and a lack of fiber, is one of the environmental causes of IBDs.

He said that the Western diet and processed foods contain substantial levels of chemicals and colorings.

He said that the data reveals a relationship between a frequently used food color and IBDs and justifies more investigation at the experimental, epidemiological, and clinical levels between food dyes and IBDs.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research financed the study.

Related Publication

Kwon, Y. H., S. Banskota, et al. (2022). “Chronic exposure to synthetic food colorant Allura Red AC promotes susceptibility to experimental colitis via intestinal serotonin in mice.” Nat Commun 13(1): 7617.


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