In praise of food coloring

Food coloring, especially really brilliant blue food coloring, is probably one of the last things most parents would consider healthy. But similar to the good that the equally scary-sounding polyethylene glycol (a chemical found, among other places, in vaccines) does in the brain, it looks like a food dye commonly used in blue M&M’s and Gatorade – Brilliant Blue G (BBG) – can help reduce tissue damage when given early on in spinal cord injuries in rats:

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that when they injected the compound Brilliant Blue G (BBG) into rats suffering spinal cord injuries, the rodents were able to walk again, albeit with a limp.

The only side effect was that the treated mice temporarily turned blue.

The results of the study, published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” build on research conducted by the same center five years ago.

In August 2004, scientists revealed how Adenosine triphosphate, which is known as ATP and described as the “energy currency of life,” surges to the spinal cord soon after injury occurs.

Researchers found that the sudden influx of ATP killed off healthy cells, making the initial injury far worse. But when they injected oxidized ATP into the injury, it was found to block the effect of ATP, allowing the injured rats to recover and walk again.

“While we achieved great results when oxidized ATP was injected directly into the spinal cord, this method would not be practical for use with spinal cord-injured patients,” said lead researcher Maiken Nedergaard, professor of Neurosurgery and director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

“First, no one wants to put a needle into a spinal cord that has just been severely injured, so we knew we needed to find another way to quickly deliver an agent that would stop ATP from killing healthy motor neurons. Second, the compound we initially used, oxidized ATP, cannot be injected into the bloodstream because of its dangerous side effects.”

ack in 2004, Nedergaard’s team discovered that the spinal cord was rich in a molecule called P2X7, which is also known as “the death receptor” for its ability to allow ATP to latch onto motor neurons and send the signals which eventually kill them.

Nedergaard knew that BBG could thwart the function of P2X7, and its similarity to a blue food dye approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1982 gave her the confidence to test it intravenously.

It worked. The rats given BBG immediately after their injury could walk again with a limp. Those that didn’t receive a dose never regained their mobility.

The original article is here, for those interested.

If this will also work on humans, I’d say that temporarily turning blue (not to mention being injected with an icky food coloring chemical!) would be a small price to pay to minimize the more devastating effects of a spinal cord injury.

Mind you, another blue dye has long been in medical use: IV Methylene blue for the treatment of methemoglobinemia. Except in that case, the patient is usually already blue…


3 Responses

  1. Just don’t think that the red israeli dye is the same thing. E-122 and E-124 are banned in the US. I’m allergic to them. They are in candies, jellies. I’ve even seen them listed in artificial vanilla.
    Anyway, it’s probably wise as a rule to avoid food coloring and additives even if one of them might have some benefit.

  2. So if I start eating tons of blue M’n’Ms now, will it improve my body’s healing abilities for the future if I ever gett a spinal cord injury? I’d definitely be willing to participate in a clinical trial like that! 😉

  3. Goes to show you need to look at specifics. Cannot live your life saying, natural is better. If it is then I am going to start smoking pot. It is natural! Or I could brew my own beer or stomp my own grapes for wine. Also mostly natural. Can’t imagine running around stoned and drunk would be very productive. But that is just me.

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