This Color Food Dye Was Just Linked To Gut Inflammation & IBD
Chemical food dyes are used widely, and one in particular—Allura Red (AR)—is extremely common. In fact, AR is the most widely used food dye in many countries1. Despite its prevalence, not all that much is known about its impact on human health. Fortunately, a group of researchers from McMaster University in Ontario recently tested the effects of intermittent exposure to AR on animals, and now we know a whole lot more.
Meet Allura Red AC.
After 12 weeks of regular intermittent exposure (which mimics the type of exposure a human might get from food), researchers found that AR harmed gut health and contributed to chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in mice.
Specifically, researchers found that AR directly disrupts gut barrier function, alters gut microbiota composition, and is linked to an increased susceptibility to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is an umbrella term for diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, which are characterized by chronic inflammation and autoimmunity in the gut.
Study author Waliul Khan, Ph.D., explained in a news release, "What we have found is striking and alarming, as this common synthetic food dye is a possible dietary trigger for IBD. This research is a significant advance in alerting the public on the potential harms of food dyes that we consume daily."
Yes, you read that correctly—daily. Many people consume AR every single day in foods like candy, soda, dairy products, and cereals. Children are also at risk, as it's often added to kids' products to add color and texture.
Previous research had shown us that some food dyes, including AR, triggered inflammation and oxidative stress. But this study gave us more information on exactly how this dye actually affects our gut and is linked to disease. This is a big deal when you consider that around 1.3% of U.S. adults report being diagnosed with IBD2 (either Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis). Furthermore, there's currently no cure, and many treatments fail to put the disease fully into remission.
The anti-IBD diet.
After what we learned from this study, it would be wise for all of us—digestive issues or not—to avoid foods containing Allura Red in honor of our long-term gut health. That said, avoiding food dye isn't the only way to adjust your diet to help protect yourself from IBD.
Research shows that the Western diet—which is high in fat, red meat, and sugar and low in fiber and micronutrients—is also a big trigger for intestinal inflammation. According to the study, in addition to dyes, other ingredients to avoid include:
- Emulsifiers (like polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose 11)
- Stabilizers (carrageenan and guar gum)
- Additives (maltodextrin 9 and titanium dioxide 10)
- Synthetic colorants (like AR!)
- Artificial sweeteners (like saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame)
These have all been linked to an altered gut microbiome, increased intestinal permeability, decreased mucus barrier thickness, and an increased risk of intestinal inflammation, according to the study.
To safeguard your gut health, you can also invest in gut-friendly practices like getting enough exercise, staying hydrated, eating fermented foods, and prioritizing probiotics (here are the nine best ones of 2023, according to a Ph.D.).
A new study links the common food dye Allura Red to inflammatory bowel disease. Avoiding food dyes and other IBD-triggering foods and ingredients is one smart way to safeguard your gut health.
Gretchen Lidicker is an mbg health contributor, content strategist, and the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. She holds a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University.