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Barbara Bradley Bolen, Ph.D.

Annatto, Food Coloring, and IBS

By March 25, 2010

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Quite by accident, I came across a fascinating discussion in the November/December 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology regarding a food coloring additive known as annatto and its possible relationship to IBS. Apparently, the journal received a letter from a Dr. Herbert Stein. Dr. Stein is described as a "Former Assistant Clinical, Professor Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology UCLA, School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA". In his letter, Dr. Stein reports that his wife suffered for three years from unexplained bouts of "diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating". On an extended European vacation, her symptoms disappeared. With a little detective work, Dr. Stein and his wife came to the conclusion that her symptoms were the result of eating food products that contain annatto.

The same journal issue includes a discussion on the subject written by a Dr. Martin Floch, described as being affiliated with the "Section of Digestive Diseases, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT". Dr. Floch did a little digging into the safety of annatto. He was able to find a few citations of health problems related to annatto. In his article, he laments the lack of good research into the subject of food additive safety, in particular the role that food additives may play as allergens in general, or more specifically, as triggers for IBS.

Dr. Stein's letter to the editor includes a list of common food products that he has identified as including annatto. If you are interested, take a look. Just remember that one must follow a careful elimination diet before declaring any food to be off limits.


Stein, H. "Annatto and IBS" Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology 2009 43:1014-1015 Letters to the Editor.

Floch, M. "Annatto, Diet, and The Irritable Bowel Syndrome" Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology 2009 43:905-906.

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April 13, 2010 at 3:10 pm
(1) Ellen Fields says:

That information and a lot more about annatto can be found on Marlene’s website, http://www.ibsnomore.com. She has started this website as a purely non-profit, non-commercial place to centralize information about annatto as a possible cause of IBS. There are lists of what foods have annatto, her experiences, etc. And she will answer any questions you might have. She completely cured herself of all symptoms by stopping the ingestion of annatto.

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