Functional medicine providers get lumped in with conspiracy theorists and get a lot of quacking scoffs, but again we have to say a “I told you so” on this one. For decades, natural, functional and integrative providers have warned patients about the dangers of all the artificial ingredients in the food supply. We have warned about the inflammation triggers, the autoimmunity triggers, and more. Maybe this research from McMaster University can get the medical world to realize the red food dye is toxic and likely contributes to the development of inflammatory bowel disease.
Inflammatory bowel disease affects millions yet clear answers for why someone develops this autoimmune condition are lacking. Genetic, diet, environmental, and other factors have been linked but no single factor explains it all. The primary two diseases are Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis. Arising in children and adults, this inflammation somewhere along the GI tract can cause bleeding, fever, weight loss, nutrient deficiencies, and more. As it worsens, the primary therapy in conventional medicine are DMARDs, ‘disease modifying agents for rheumatoid diseases’. That is a nice of saying ‘medications that alter the immune system through chemical or designed antibodies to turn off inflammation’. These medications may help turn off the disease, but the side effects can be scary themselves.
The researchers looked at Allura red food dye which is growing in use in soft drinks, candies, dairy products, and even some cereals. They based this on what they called “a growing body of evidence that diet plays a pivotal role in the development of IBD” and the act that in some countries, Allura Red is the most common food dye added. (Obviously they are drinking the functional medicine Kool-Aid to believe that diet might affect a disease). They also noted a rapidly rising incidence of inflammatory bowel disease in developed countries like the US.
In the study, the red dye affected gut inflammation and altered levels of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, in the gut. For the inflammation, they used a mouse model and demonstrated that mice treated with the red dye developed higher levels of inflammation their GI tracts. In the gut, both changes in the gut microbiome and alterations in the gut barrier function were noted. The changes occurred only when a daily exposure occurred but not when it happened only once a week. In a human intestinal cell model, increased levels of serotonin were noted when the cells were exposed to the red dye.
So it looks like we were not so crazy on the potential of food dyes, at least this one, to potentially cause an autoimmune or inflammatory conditions. Much research remains to do, but this study made good headway towards understanding the mechanisms through which these problems occur. Maybe conventional medicine will wake up a little with this research, but at least functional medicine doctors like myself can feel more confident in advising against food dyes and other artificial ingredients. Helping patients restore healthier more abundant lives requires being on the cutting edge.
Yun Han Kwon, Suhrid Banskota, Huaqing Wang, Laura Rossi, Jensine A. Grondin, Saad A. Syed, Yeganeh Yousefi, Jonathan D. Schertzer, Katherine M. Morrison, Michael G. Wade, Alison C. Holloway, Michael G. Surette, Gregory R. Steinberg, Waliul I. Khan. Chronic exposure to synthetic food colorant Allura Red AC promotes susceptibility to experimental colitis via intestinal serotonin in mice. Nature Communications, 2022; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-35309-y
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.