The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation reports that three million Americans suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases linked to a popular red food dye, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications.
Several popular snacks and drinks, including Skittles, Doritos, Pepsi, and some cosmetic products, contain the additive, also known as Red 40 or Allura red.
Despite the increased use of food coloring over the years, few studies have been conducted on its effects on the gut.
“What we have found is striking and alarming, as this common synthetic food dye is a possible dietary trigger for IBDs,” said McMaster University researcher Waliul Khan. “This research is a significant advance in alerting the public on the potential harms of food dyes that we consume daily.”
In Ontario, Canada, researchers fed mice high doses of Red 40 for 12 weeks, a study they said was a good model for human diets, where food coloring is typically a significant component.
The researchers examined markers for synthetic colorants in neuroendocrine intestinal cells, which are involved in gut inflammation symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, dehydration, and bloody stools.
Mice consuming the highest amount of Red 40 showed increased serotonin levels and a blockage of healthy bacteria in their colon, causing inflammation and ulcers.
The identical outcomes shown in the mice would require a higher-than-recommended dose of the dye to be consumed by a human.
Red 40 can, however, cause biological imbalances within the body, which may make it more susceptible to illnesses in the gut and elsewhere.
“These findings have important implications in the prevention and management of gut inflammation,” said Khan.
“The literature suggests that the consumption of Allura Red also affects certain allergies, immune disorders, and behavioral problems in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),” he added.
The Food and Drug Administration restricts food coloring to 3.2 milligrams per pound of a person’s body weight for consumption in food and cosmetics.