Synthetic food dyes are being used widely by food manufacturers to make food more attractive, and appealing. However, the health hazards these dyes can cause remain unknown to many. Some of these food colors can wreak havoc on your gut health. A new study published in Nature Communications has cautioned that long-term consumption of Allura Red, a common food dye used in candies, soft drinks, dairy products and some cereals, can trigger inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Also called FD&C Red 40 and Food Red 17, Allura Red is used as a common ingredient to add colour and texture to foodstuffs, often to make them look appealing to children.
In their study conducted on animals, researchers at McMaster University found that continual exposure to Allura Red disrupted gut barrier function, which led to increased production of serotonin, thereby gut microbiota imbalance and increased susceptibility to inflammation and colitis.
Serotonin, a hormone/neurotransmitter found in the gut, is identified as a critical factor mediating the harmful effects of Allura Red on gut health.
It is a "striking and alarming" finding that this common food dye is a possible dietary trigger for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), stated senior author Waliul Khan.
He believes that what they have found has important implication in the prevention and management of gut inflammation, and it can alert people on the potential harms of food dyes that they consume daily.
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Consumption of Allura Red is also known to affect certain allergies, immune disorders and behavioural problems in children, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the expert pointed out.
Understand inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs)
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are serious intestinal disorders characterized by chronic inflammation (pain and swelling) in the intestines, and it affect millions of people worldwide. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are two major types of IBDs.
The exact causes of these conditions are still not fully understood, but studies suggest that it may be triggered by dysregulated immune responses, genetic factors, gut microbiota imbalances, and environmental factors.
The typical Western diet, consisting of processed fats, red and processed meats, sugar and less fibre, is known to be an environmental trigger for IBDs. Khan noted that that the Western diet and processed food contain various additives and dyes in large amounts.
Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Symptoms of IBDs may vary depending on what part of the intestinal tract is affected. A person with IBD may experience abdominal cramps and pain, bloody diarrhea, severe urgency to have a bowel movement, fever, weight loss, loss of appetite, and iron deficiency anemia.
If left untreated, IBD can lead to serious complications such as intestinal bleeding, rupture of the bowel, obstruction of the bowel, toxic megacolon (extreme dilation of the colon that is life-threatening), malnutrition and even increase the risk of colon cancer (particularly ulcerative colitis).