Alloxan is used in laboratories to induce diabetes in rats
Alloxan, a chemical allegedly used in the manufacture of refined flour, faced the prospect of limitations on its use after a litigant approached the Madras High Court to request a ban on the mixing of alloxan in white flour. Alloxan is used in laboratories to induce diabetes in rats and to test the efficacy of anti-diabetic medicines but no tests have been scientifically done to detect its presence in India.
Global health literature suggests that its presence in flour implies that consumers of popular Indian food such as parathas and puris are at increased risk of diabetes as well as heart disease.
In a 2013 report The Hindu quoted several Madurai-based cardiologists who suggested that alloxan and other agents in flour may be associated with heart disease.
Alloxan has been banned by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the Delhi-based central body that has the final say on what additives are permissible in food.
Independent food testing labs in Delhi say that they have yet to detect the presence of the substance. “So far we haven’t noted alloxan in our tests,” said Sunil S., a food chemist at the Shriram Institute of Industrial Research.
Alloxan’s chemical existence has been known since the 19th century, when it was discovered in human excretions, indicating that it could be synthesised in the body.
Alloxan’s structure mimics that of glucose, which allows it to be absorbed by the pancreas and once inside the organ, it destroys insulin-producing beta cells.
However, according to the American Chemical Society, it cannot be taken up by the human pancreas, though it has been shown to be associated with liver and kidney toxicity.
No known studies have yet specifically discovered alloxan in Indian foods. However other bleaching agents that are used to make flour white, such as benzoyl peroxide and chlorine oxide — and also named in the petition before the Madras High Court — are permitted by the FSSAI provided they appear below specified limits, according to a notification on the agency’s website.
There have been no studies that examine the issue of alloxan in street food, said an official with Delhi’s Food Safety department, who did not want to be identified. The United States Food and Drugs Administration has also not issued specific notifications on alloxan.