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Common food dye can cause colitis

Common food dye can cause colitis

January 07, 2023
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They are used to color food, so that they can be more enticing to consume, we are talking about food dyes. But are these substances harmless and safe? It doesn't look like it, at least for some dyes, such as Allura Red AC, also called FD&C Red 40, Food Red 17 or E129, a dye that has even been shown to induce colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases with a deterioration in quality of life. This is the result of a very recent scientific research published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications by a Canadian team from McMaster University (Kwon et al, Nature Communications, 2022).

Colitis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease, such as colitis, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, is an ever-growing condition that currently affects millions of people worldwide. At the basis of these conditions we can find a genetic predisposition, alterations of the microbiota, but above all external factors, such as diet. In particular, the Western-style diet, rich in refined and processed foods, seems to play a major role in the development of inflammatory bowel disease. These foods are often a concentrate of additives, such as titanium dioxide, a food dye that can be added to sugared almonds, chewing gum or sweets, artificial sweeteners, but also emulsifiers, such as carboxymethylcellulose, which have been shown to alter the intestinal microbiota and promote colitis. As far as food dyes are concerned, these are substances whose consumption has increased considerably over the last 50 years. The study we are talking about today focuses on a particular dye, Allura red AC, since it is among the most common dyes that can be found in foods, even those dedicated to children.

Allura red AC, what it is, where it is found and possible risks

Allura red AC is a synthetic red food dye. This dye is mainly found in bitter soda, some wines, orange juices, pre-cooked shellfish, red fruit preserves, canned meat, sausages but also candies. Allura Red AC is already known to cause allergic reactions in predisposed people, immune system disorders and, as some studies seem to indicate, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children as well. Instead, as regards its action at the level of the gut, no studies had yet been performed in this regard, at least until today. Canadian research was able to shed light on this very important topic.

The allura red food dye can increase the risk of intestinal inflammation, the study

The study was carried out in a laboratory on a population of mice. What emerged was that regular use of foods containing allura red AC induced colitis in mice. Scientists have also managed to understand the mechanism. In particular, the dye contributes directly to weakening the defensive capacity of the intestinal barrier and at the same time increases the intestinal production of serotonin. Serotonin, in turn, increases bowel movements and changes the composition of the gut microbiota, increasing the likelihood of developing colitis.


The study indicates that a very common food dye, allura red Ac, can activate a series of processes that lead to the development of intestinal inflammation, including colitis. If we add to this the suspicion that this dye can cause allergies, immune disorders and, in children, ADHD, we can understand how important it is to be aware of what we eat and, if possible, limit overly processed foods that may contain substances, such as allura red AC, which can be harmful in the long run.

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