Our digestive tract is home to 100 trillion bacteria. Collectively known as the gut microbiota, these bacteria help with metabolism and maintaining a healthy immune system. Changes in this microbial community can cause chronic diseases.
Dietary emulsifiers, which are chemically similar to detergents, are added to many processed foods to improve texture and extend shelf life. They can be found in everything starting from dill pickles to ice cream, and we use to consume them a lot.
Why are they bad for our health?
Emulsifiers throw off healthy levels of intestinal bacteria, triggering chronic, low-level inflammation that promotes colorectal cancer, a recent study on animal’s shows.
In order to keep our life healthy, it’s best to steer clear of these ingredients since various other studies suggest they impact the gut in unhealthy ways. Let’s take a closer look at this important new study, including ways to avoid this harmful class of processed food additives.
The Food Additive and Colon Cancer Connection
Food is medicine said Hippocrates long time ago. And he was right, but in a time long before the creation of lab-derived ingredients and processed foods. But today we tend to have a very quick way of life full of unhealthy fast food.
In the recent food additive and colon cancer study, researchers at Georgia State University’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences found that mice that were regularly fed with dietary emulsifiers experienced exacerbated tumor development.
The results appeared in the journal Cancer Research. In their latest study, the scientists investigated whether dietary emulsifiers might affect the risk for colorectal cancer by altering the gut microbiota.
In this study, researchers used the two of the most commonly used emulsifiers by people – polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose. They fed mice with doses comparable to the cumulative amounts people would eat daily in processed foods.
Researchers pointed out that consuming emulsifiers drastically changed the species composition of the gut microbiota in a manner that made it more pro-inflammatory. Also consuming emulsifier’s creates a niche favoring cancer induction and development.
Alterations in bacterial species resulted in bacteria expressing more flagellin and lip polysaccharide, which activate pro-inflammatory gene expression by the immune system.
By eating processed foods containing emulsifiers on a daily basis, we’re inducing chronic, low-level inflammation. Since inflammation is the cause of most diseases, this is a major finding of the study. Colorectal cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths across the globe.
Colorectal cancer has been markedly increasing since the mid-20th century. Low-grade inflammation was associated with altered gut microbiota composition and metabolic disease. This is what is observed in many cases of colorectal cancer. These recent findings suggest dietary emulsifiers might be partially responsible for this association.
Researchers point out that the increasing in digestive disease points to an environmental factor like food. The scientists also explain that the detergent-like molecules in emulsifiers’ disrupted health gut flora and also threw off healthy intestinal epithelial cell functioning in the gut in a way that promotes colon tumors.
This is a major breakthrough that suggests even low-grade gut inflammation can promote colon cancer.
A Closer Look at the Food Additive and Colon Cancer Culprits
Dietary emulsifiers are often found in things like baked goods, frozen desserts, non-dairy creamers, ice cream and even dill pickles. Dietary emulsifiers keep baked goods from going stale, keep dill oil dissolved in bottled dill pickles, help coffee whiteners dissolve in coffee, and prevent oil from separating out of artificial whipped cream.
In 2015, researchers also linked the ingredients to unhealthy changes in the gut, including altered bacteria and inflammation. The study also saw a link between those ingredients and obesity and metabolic syndrome, too. It’s possible that polysorbates and other emulsifiers act like detergents to disrupt the mucous layer that lines the gut.
Final Thoughts on the Food Additive and Colon Cancer Study
• Less processed foods to avoid harmful food additives.
• Avoid other gut-damaging additives like carrageenan.
• Take steps to heal leaky gut, particularly gut permeability.
• Avoid foods that contain polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose.
• Beware of other emulsifiers. It’s not clear if soy lecithin also impacts the gut in a similar way.