Common Food Additives Cause Obesity and Gut Inflammation

food additives cause obesity and gut inflammation

Ice Cream, a food made with emulsifiers

Common food additives cause obesity and gut inflammation in mice, according to new study.

Emulsifiers are food additives used to suspend two different fluids, like fat and water, preventing them from separating something that’s useful in food like ice cream. These additives also improve shelf life of food acting as a preservative. A new study finds that these food additives cause obesity and gut inflammation by altering the composition of gut bacteria.

Food Additives Cause Obesity and Gut Inflammation

This new scientific study was published in the journal Nature.

Two common emulsifiers used to preserve food are carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80. This new study found that giving these two food additives to mice, in levels comparable to what people consume when eating food containing them, led to an increased risk of both glucose intolerance and inflammatory bowel disease.

In the study researchers added carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80 to the drinking water of mice in levels people could ingest. Mice fed the emulsifiers developed obesity and glucose intolerance with an otherwise unchanged diet. Mice engineered to be more sensitive to inflammatory bowel disease fed the emulsifiers had a higher rate of IBD and a more severe form of inflammation compared to controls. Sterile mice, lacking all gut bacteria, were unaffected by the added emulsifiers suggesting a causal link.

Why did this happen?

Researchers found that mice fed the emulsifiers had a different population of gut bacteria compared to mice fed a normal diet. Mice fed the emulsifier had less diversity in their gut flora and gut bacteria also resided closer to the cells lining the gut instead of inhabiting the heavy mucus layer protecting those cells. Researchers believe that the emulsifiers break down the heavy mucus, making gut bacteria come in contact with the epithelial cells causing inflammation and the symptoms observed in the mice.

This study further highlights the danger of additives remaining intact through the entire GI tract. Research published last year found that sweeteners also can change the composition of gut bacteria causing glucose intolerance resulting in a pre-diabetic condition. If this research is confirmed in follow up scientific studies, we might need to rethink the types and amounts of preservatives used in our food.

Image Credit:  Thomas Hawk via flickr.com, CC BY-NC 2.0