Tuesday, April 23, 2024

E171 food additive ‘harmful’ to human gut

E171, an additive found in more than 900 food products, may have a “substantial and harmful influence on human health”.

So says a University of Sydney study investigating the health impact of the food additive, also known as titanium dioxide nanoparticles. Many food and medicine manufacturers use E171 as a whitening agent in everyday products such as chewing gum and mayonnaise. For this reason, a high proportion of the general population regularly consume the additive.

Gut feeling

Published in Frontiers in Nutrition, the mice study found that consumption of food containing E171 has an impact on the gut microbiota, defined by the trillions of bacteria that inhabit the gut. As such, the additive could trigger diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) and colorectal cancer.

Co-lead author Associate Professor Wojciech Chrzanowski says the study adds substantially to a body of work on nanoparticle toxicity and safety, and their impact on health and environment.

“The aim of this research is to stimulate discussions on new standards and regulations to ensure safe use of nanoparticles in Australia and globally,” he said.

Nanoparticles are common in medicines, foods, clothing and other applications. But scientists still don’t understand their possible impact, especially long-term.

Rising consumption

Titanium dioxide consumption has increased in the past decade. Researchers have already linked it to several medical conditions, including:

  • Dementia
  • Autoimmune diseases, including eczema and asthma
  • Cancer metastasis
  • Autism.

Many other health concerns remain, even though many regulators have approved its use in food.

‘Poorly understood’

Associate Professor Wojciech Chrzanowski said: “It’s well established that dietary composition has an impact on physiology and health.

“There is increasing evidence that continuous exposure to nanoparticles has an impact on gut microbiota composition. Since gut microbiota is a gatekeeper of our health, any changes to its function have an influence on overall health.

“This study presents pivotal evidence that consumption of food containing E171 could lead to diseases including IBS and colorectal cancer.”

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