MADRID, May 14. (EUROPA PRESS) –
Artificial food colors can cause illness when the immune system has become deregulated, report researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the United States. This study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism in May, is the first to show this phenomenon.
The study, conducted in mice, found that the animals developed colitis when they consumed foods with the artificial food colors FD&C Red 40 and Yellow 6 when a specific component of their immune system, known as the cytokine IL-23, was unregulated.
Although it is not clear whether food colors have similar effects in humans, the researchers plan to investigate exactly how the cytokine IL-23 promotes the development of colitis after exposure to food colors.
Colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and deregulation of the cytokine IL-23 is known to be a factor in the development of IBD in humans. Medications that block its function are currently used with success in patients. Food colorants, such as Red 40 and Yellow 6, are widely used in food, drink, and medicine. These two food colors are the most widely used in the world.
Both genetic predisposition and environmental factors appear to influence the development of IBD, a disease that affects millions of people around the world, but the exact environmental factors remain difficult to determine.
For the study, the researchers created mouse models with deregulated expression of the cytokine IL-23. To their surprise, mice with a dysregulated immune response did not develop inflammatory bowel disease spontaneously, even though deregulation of IL-23 is a factor in people with the disease.
When fed a diet with the Red 40 or Yellow 6 food dyes, the altered mice developed colitis. However, mice that received the dye diet but had normal immune systems did not develop IBD.
To show that the food coloring was really responsible, the researchers fed the altered mice diets without the food coloring and with water that contained it; in both cases, the disease developed when the mice consumed the dye, but not otherwise. They repeated this finding with various diets and various food colors.
“Drastic changes in the concentration of pollutants in the air and water and the increased use of processed foods and food additives in the human diet in the last century are correlated with an increase in the incidence of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases,” notes the Lead author Sergio Lira, Professor of Immunology at the Institute for Precision Immunology at Icahn Mount Sinai.
“It is believed that these environmental changes contribute to the development of these diseases, but relatively little is known about how they do it – he adds -. We hope that this research is a step towards understanding the impact of food dyes on human health” .