Common Food Additives Promote IBD and Metabolic Syndrome, Study Shows

Emulsifiers and food additives have been reported to alter the gut microbiota composition, triggering inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) development and metabolic syndromes.

Emulsifiers and food additives have been reported to alter the gut microbiota composition, triggering inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) development and metabolic syndromes.

Published in Nature, the research, led by Georgia State University Institute for Biomedical Sciences’ researchers Benoit Chassaing, MD and Andrew T. Gewirtz, MD, suggested that emulsifiers might be partially responsible for the increased incidence of diseases such as common obesity-related disorders that can lead to type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular and/or liver diseases.

To test their hypothesis of the role emulsifier addition plays in promoting IBD diseases, Chassaing, Gewirtz, and their team fed mice models 2 very commonly used emulsifiers — polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulsose – at doses mirroring the mean emulsifier consumption within most processed foods.

They found that emulsifier consumption transformed the species composition of the gut microbiota making it more pro-inflammatory.

Specifically, the reformed microbiota was found to have enhanced digestion capabilities, which permeated the dense mucus layer lining the intestine.

They noted that this spurred chronic colitis in mice who were genetically prone to this disorder. However, the research showed that in mice with normal immune systems, emulsifiers induced low-grade or mild intestinal inflammation and metabolic syndrome.

Gewirtz commented, “A key feature of these modern plagues is alteration of the gut microbiota in a manner that promotes inflammation.”

Furthermore, according to Chassaing, “The dramatic increase in these diseases has occurred despite consistent human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor. Food interacts intimately with the microbiota so we considered what modern additions to the food supply might possibly make gut bacteria more pro-inflammatory.”

Naturally, the team shifted their focus to test additional emulsifiers and investigate how they affect humans, believing similar results would highlight their involvement in triggering obesity and a range of other chronic gut inflammation related diseases.

The experts stated that already existing testing methods and approving food additives might not be entirely adequate in preventing chemical use that promotes diseases driven by low-grade inflammation.

While further research is underway, the team stressed the importance of avoiding excess food consumption. Gewirtz said, “Our findings reinforce the concept suggested by earlier work that low-grade inflammation resulting from an altered microbiota can be an underlying cause of excess eating.”