Artificial food colorings are used extensively in foods, and humans are regularly exposed to them by ingestion. These chemical colorants form adducts (bonds or “bridges”) with proteins in humans; therefore, measuring the antibodies to these colorants will indicate whether or not they are responsible for a person's immune or autoimmune reaction. A person may not react to a particular food; however, they may react to the food once its protein is bound with an artificial colorant. It is important to note that we are talking about food proteins binding to artificial food colorants, and vice-versa. The binding of artificial colorants to a food protein may increase the food’s antigenicity and ability to cause an enhanced immune reaction in patients.
Artificial food colorings, though known to cause DNA damage, adverse effects on the liver and kidneys, and have carcinogenic properties, have not been restricted but have actually seen increasing use in a growing number of foods for the last 50 years.
Artificial food colorings are chemicals, called haptens. These molecules are too small for the immune system to recognize and mount an immune response against them. However, when chemicals enter the human body, they bind to various tissues and subsequently form neo-antigens. Immune reaction to these neo-antigens can result in a breakdown in immune tolerance and the production of antibodies against the tissues to which these chemicals bind.
Food colorings are generally ionic and thus they interact strongly with proteins to form covalent bonds. These stable complexes with proteins give uniform color distribution in all common food proteins.
Unfortunately, covalent binding of food colorings to human proteins, including human serum albumin and hemoglobin, is a major mechanism for the induction of immune reactivity associated with various colorants.
Additionally, the covalent binding of food coloring to different food amino acid sequences prevents digestive enzymes from breaking down the food product. Artificial food colorings have significant immunological consequences due to their ability to bind to human tissues and/or prevent effective digestion. Each of these events can activate the inflammatory cascade and result in food and food additives immune reactivities with a potential for autoimmune reactivity.
Artificial food colorings have significant immunological consequences due to their ability to bind to human tissues and/or prevent effective digestion. Each of these events can activate the inflammatory cascade and result in food and food additives immune reactivities with a potential for autoimmune reactivity.
How you can avoid artificial colors in your foods? Here are a few steps to get started:
Choose organic -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not permit the use of artificial colors in foods it certifies as organic.
Limit packaged foods -- If a food product looks suspiciously bright or colorful, leave it on the shelf. Baked goods like frosted cakes and cupcakes are a common source of artificial food colors.
Read labels carefully -- Artificial colors can pop up in unexpected places, including items that are not brightly colored, such as dried fruit snacks. Avoid products that list FD&C dyes or the words “artificial color” on the label.
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