ecent research shows that long-term consumption of Allura Red (AR), a commonly used synthetic color additive, could trigger inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) and colitis.
Also known as Red 40, AR is one of the nine synthetic color additives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in food. Manufacturers prefer synthetic dyes over natural ones extracted from animals and plants because they cost less, provide a more vivid and uniform color, and don’t introduce unwanted flavors.
In a study published on Dec. 20 in Nature Communications, scientists at McMaster University in Canada investigated the impact of exposure to AR on gut health. Using an experimental animal model, they found that chronic consumption of the colorant could cause mild intestinal inflammation in mice.
“The dye directly disrupts gut barrier function and increases the production of serotonin, a hormone/neurotransmitter found in the gut, which subsequently alters gut microbiota composition, leading to increased susceptibility to colitis,” the scientists said in a press release.
For the study, the scientists examined the effects of several most widely used food dyes on serotonin production, including AR, Brilliant Blue FCF, Sunset Yellow FCF, and Tartrazine Yellow. While these dyes had all promoted serotonin secretion, AR was found to have the most pronounced effect.
The scientists then moved to feed groups of mice with different diets for 12 weeks. One group was fed with normal food as control; another was fed with AR-infused food every day; and the other received AR-infused food just one day per week. The amount of AR added to their diet was calculated according to the levels deemed acceptable for humans.
When colitis was induced via exposure to a chemical seven days after the feeding, scientists found the group of mice that occasionally consumed AR—most similar to the pattern in humans—didn’t become more vulnerable to colitis. Those mice that ate AR-infused food for a consecutive 12 weeks, however, developed mild colitis.
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