Popular food coloring aimed at children could trigger inflammatory bowel disease, study finds

A popular food coloring aimed at children could trigger inflammatory bowel disease, according to ‘alarming’ new research.

Rouge Allura AC is used to add color and texture to sweets, soft drinks, dairy products and cereals, often with the aim of attracting children.

But new animal tests reveal that the dye disrupts gut barrier function, harms gut health, promotes inflammation and potentially triggers inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Researchers at McMaster University have found that by disrupting the intestinal barrier, Allura Red AC increases the amount of serotonin produced.

This changes the composition of the gut microbiota and makes people more susceptible to colitis.

Writing in Nature Communications, Professor Waliul Khan of McMaster University in Canada said the alarming findings were a significant advance for public health.

The lead author of the study said, “This study demonstrates the significant adverse effects of allura red on gut health and identifies gut serotonin as a critical factor mediating these effects.

“These findings have important implication in the prevention and management of intestinal inflammation.

“What we found is striking and alarming, as this common synthetic food coloring is a possible food trigger for IBD.

“This research is a significant step forward in alerting the public to the potential harms of the food colorings we consume daily.

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

Professor Khan said IBD is a serious chronic inflammatory bowel condition, affecting millions of people worldwide.

The exact causes of the diseases are not fully understood, but studies indicate that they can be triggered by dysregulated immune responses, genetic factors, imbalances in the gut microbiota, and environmental factors.

In recent years, significant progress has been made to identify how genes are susceptible to IBD and to understand the role of the immune system and host microbiota.

However, Professor Khan said research has lagged behind when it comes to investigating environmental risk factors.

Environmental triggers include typical Western diets, which are high in processed fats, red and processed meats, sugar, and lacking in fiber.

He added that such a diet also includes high amounts of additives and colorings, and the study results warrant further exploration of the link between food colorings and IBD.

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