Food additives may keep snacks fresh and tasty looking, but they can wreak havoc on the gut. These additives disrupt the intestine’s protection from bacteria and boost inflammation in mice, scientists report online February 25 in Nature.
The new research “underscores the fact that a lot of things we eat … may not be as safe as we think they are,” says Eugene Chang, a gastroenterologist at the University of Chicago.
Additives called emulsifiers help many foods, including ice cream, salad dressing, pasta sauce, bread and cookies, stay fresh on supermarket shelves. To see whether the additives play a role in inflammatory conditions, researchers fed emulsifiers to mice for 12 weeks.
The mice put on weight and made proteins that signal inflammation. More inflammation-causing microbes also showed up in the bacterial communities in the mice’s guts.
The jury is out on this one. But why eat processed food with preservatives when so many fresh foods are available?
... in mice, relatively low concentrations of two commonly used emulsifiers, namely carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80, induced low-grade inflammation and obesity/metabolic syndrome in wild-type hosts and promoted robust colitis in mice predisposed to this disorder.
Emulsifier-induced metabolic syndrome was associated with microbiota encroachment, altered species composition and increased pro-inflammatory potential. These results suggest that the broad use of emulsifying agents might be contributing to an increased societal incidence of obesity/metabolic syndrome and other chronic inflammatory diseases