Effects of the colour additive caramel colour III on the immune system: a study with human volunteers

Food Chem Toxicol. 1992 Sep;30(9):749-57. doi: 10.1016/0278-6915(92)90076-w.


Administration of the colour additive Caramel Colour III to rats has been associated with decreased numbers of lymphocytes and several other changes in the immune system, as well as in immune function parameters, specifically in animals fed a diet with a relatively low vitamin B6 content. The effects are caused by the imidazole derivative 2-acetyl-4(5)-tetrahydroxybutylimidazole (THI). Caramel Colour III is commonly used in food products such as bakery products, soya-bean sauces, brown sauces, gravies, soup aromas, brown (dehydrated) soups, brown malt caramel blend for various applications, vinegars and beers, and effects in humans on dietary intake cannot be excluded. Elderly male volunteers with a marginal deficit in vitamin B6 were considered a relevant and potentially sensitive group to study possible effects of Caramel Colour III on blood lymphocyte numbers (total and within subsets) or on proliferative responses of lymphocytes to mitogenic stimulation. In addition, several other haematological parameters, as well as serum immunoglobulin levels and immunoglobulin production in vitro by pokeweed mitogen-stimulated mononuclear blood cells were studied. The results of this double-blind intervention study demonstrated that in a selected test group of apparently healthy elderly male volunteers with a biochemically marginally deficient vitamin B6 status, Caramel Colour III containing 23 (commercial sample) or 143 (research sample) ppm THI and administered at the level of the current acceptable daily intake of 200 mg/kg body weight/day for 7 days did not affect any of the factors investigated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Aged
  • Ammonia / administration & dosage
  • Ammonia / adverse effects*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • CD4-CD8 Ratio / drug effects
  • Candy
  • Carbohydrates
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Food Coloring Agents / administration & dosage
  • Food Coloring Agents / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Immunity / drug effects*
  • Immunoglobulins / biosynthesis*
  • Leukocyte Count / drug effects
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / drug effects
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Activation / drug effects
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / drug effects
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Pyridoxine / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin B 6 Deficiency / immunology


  • Carbohydrates
  • Food Coloring Agents
  • Immunoglobulins
  • Organic Chemicals
  • caramel coloring
  • Ammonia
  • Pyridoxine