Popular food dye could trigger inflammatory bowel disease

Dr Zoe discusses the signs and symptoms on Crohn's disease

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The exact causes of inflammatory bowel disease have remained a mystery and research has lagged to get to the bottom of the matter. Some studies suggest the deregulation of the immune responses is to blame, while others point to imbalances in the gut. According to the findings of a new study, a popular colourant used widely in food could trigger the condition by inflicting “significant harmful effects” on the gut.

New research has shown that Allura Red (AR) dye could disrupt the functioning of the gut barrier, inflicting harm on the gut and encouraging inflammation.

Allura Red is a synthetic food colourant that is widely used in commercial food products, meaning it has significant human exposure.

The food dye is used predominantly to add colour and texture to sweets, soft drinks, dairy products and some cereals, often with the aim of making these products more alluring to children.

One of the main dangers of disrupting the gut barrier is the overproduction of serotonin.

This could in turn potentially trigger inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.

The latest research published in the journal Nature Communications showed that chronic exposure to AR at a dose found in commonly consumed dietary products exacerbates colitis.

The study, performed on mice, found that intermittent exposure to the food dye over a period of 12 weeks did not influence susceptibility to colitis.

Professor Waliul Khan, from McMaster University in Canada, described the “alarming” finding as a significant advancement in public health.

The senior author said: “The study demonstrates the significance of Allura Red on gut health and identifies gut serotonin as a critical factor mediating these effects.

“These findings have important implications in the prevention and management of gut inflammation.

“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.”

“The literature suggests that the consumption of Allura Red also affects certain allergies, immune disorders and behavioural problems in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

Most of the research probing the potential risks of food dye or human health has yielded inconclusive results so far.

There has, however, been evidence suggesting they may cause allergic reactions in some people, and hyperactivity in sensitive children.

Claims have been made that artificial dyes may also cause more serious side effects including cancer, but the opinions around this remain conflicting.

What are the symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases?

The two most common IBDs are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which affect the intestine and colon, respectively.

The signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease can range from mild to severe, but anyone with persistent changes in bowel habits is advised to see a doctor.

Symptoms tend to develop gradually but they can also come on suddenly without warning.

The Mayo Clinic states: “Although inflammatory bowel disease usually isn’t fatal, it’s a serious disease that, in some cases, may cause life-threatening complications.”

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