Featured,  Health,  Science,  Toxic Exposure

Food Additives, Microbiota, and Inflammation

By Roberta Attanasio

“For centuries, additives have served useful functions in a variety of foods. Our ancestors used salt to preserve meats and fish, added herbs and spices to improve the flavor of foods, preserved fruit with sugar, and pickled cucumbers in a vinegar solution. Today, consumers demand and enjoy a food supply that is flavorful, nutritious, safe, convenient, colorful and affordable. Food additives and advances in technology help make that possible.” But, are food additives safe? Results from a recent study show that some food additives known as emulsifiers can alter the composition and location of the gut microbiota — the diverse population of 100 trillion bacteria that inhabit the intestinal tract — thus inducing intestinal inflammation. This inflammation, in turn, promotes the development of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) and metabolic syndrome — disorders that are often severe and debilitating and afflict millions of people.

Image credit: gwire, CC BY 2.0

The ancient Greeks used the emulsifying power of beeswax in cosmetic products. Egg yolk was probably the first emulsifier ever used in food production back in the early 19th century. Emulsifiers are now added to bread, chocolate, ice cream, margarine, processed meat, and more. But why? Add oil to water and the two liquids will never mix. At least not until an emulsifier is added. Emulsifiers are molecules with one water-loving (hydrophilic) and one oil-loving (hydrophobic) end. They make it possible for water and oil to become finely dispersed in each other, creating a stable, homogenous, smooth emulsion.

The study results show that, in a mouse model, two common emulsifiers — caboxymethylcellulose (CMC) and polysorbate-80 (P80) — not only change the composition of the gut microbiota, they also make the gut more porous. The altered microbiota has enhanced capacity to digest and infiltrate the dense mucus layer that lines the intestine — bacteria reach immune cells, thus inducing activation of inflammatory pathways and the development of severe inflammation.

Such changes in bacteria trigger chronic colitis in mice genetically prone to this disorder, due to abnormal immune systems. In contrast, in mice with normal immune systems, emulsifiers induce low-grade or mild intestinal inflammation and metabolic syndrome, characterized by increased levels of food consumption, obesity, hyperglycemia and insulin resistance.

Fergus Shanahan (University College Cork), who was not involved in the study, told Ed Yong: “This work cannot be ignored.” He doubted that most people would be significantly affected by occasionally eating foods with emulsifiers — but risk might change for those who have a genetic predisposition to inflammatory bowel disease, or who eat lots of processed foods.

Andrew Gewirtz, senior author of the study, said in a press release: “We do not disagree with the commonly held assumption that over-eating is a central cause of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Rather, 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.”

Together, the researchers note that the current means of testing and approving food additives may not be adequate. Thus, we consume food containing chemicals that may promote diseases driven by low-grade inflammation or may cause disease in susceptible individuals.

Gewirtz told Ed Yong: ““We’re certainly eating less processed food since we’ve been doing this work. It took a lot of effort, but we did find one type of ice-cream in the supermarket that’s emulsifier-free.”

What about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)? According to Ed Young, the FDA said in a statement: “The FDA closely monitors the scientific literature for information that might indicate a potential public health concern with a food substance. At this time, the FDA does not have sufficient evidence to alter its previous conclusion that polysorbate 80 and carboxymethyl cellulose are considered safe under their intended conditions of use in food.”


  • A.Jel

    Thisarticle mentioned that how early the ancient Greeks used the emulsifier (19th century). At first, it was the egg yolk that they add emulsifier because it only last for a short period of time. And 10 years later, after derivative of fatty acids were introduced, used of emulsifier started to increase tremendously. Now, a majority of our food products contain emulsifier: margarine, mayo, processed foods, bread, ice cream etc.
    It is a huge concern that emulsifier altered microbiota and it’s tricky to avoid food without emulsifier added. But we can minimize the consumption of emulsifier by changing eating natural food; for example, eat more vegetable, fruits, nuts, etc. And also, we can eat seafood or fish instead of meat. By changing the eating habit, you can become healthier that before but also help to lose weight.

  • Ray Kinney

    I believe that NIEHS has classified MSG (monosodium glutamate) as an obesogen, probably based mostly on rat studies since human studies are less available. Definitive clarification in humans remains to be done. However, it seems pretty clear that even though the human obesity connection for metabolic effects that are neuroexcitotoxic from the ingested contents of MSG added to our foods as a ‘flavor enhancer’ may still need research clarification in humans, it remains obvious that it is heavily added to foods with the intention of it being a flavor enhancer to the point of causing continued consumption of the foods beyond the time for normal satiation… thus behaviorally obesogenic… if not metabolically seen yet as clearly neuroexcititoxic. Clearly it greatly increases the sales of foods loaded with both MSG identified as a single ingredient, and hidden within other ingredients up to 60% without having to be called MSG seperately. If this is all true, MSG does appear to be an obesogenic food additive heavily used in processed foods, and probably needs recognition as one of the significant causes of obesity.I know that I personally have a lot of trouble not eating foods heavily laced with MSG, as they are more flavorful, and my diet often suffers. IMHO.

    • Lucy Sundstrom

      I believe MSG should be banned. What’s more, we should stop buying food that is GMO and sprayed with pesticides, not only this food is dangerous, it also tastes like nothing or bad, hence the need to add flavor enhancers such as MSG. If we go to the organic farmers markets, we can wean ourselves from toxic MSG or other deleterious junk that gets added to our food.

      • Ray Kinney

        About 98% of GMOs are ‘pesticide resistant’, a lot of the resultant contamination of foods goes unmonitored by anyone, EPA included. There are other major questions that should be asked about GMO safety issues, but the pesticide resistant paradigm is creating a lot of health risk potential that begs for a much more advanced toxicologic assessment before what should be lab experiments are externalized more fully onto society for corporate ‘profit’. GE hold good potential for increasing food safety, food quality, and food quantity, but great risks are also likely if not adequately investigated, any tool can be misused… the trick is to be intelligent before wide dispersal across the world and into breastmilk.

  • Ray kinney

    Concerning gut microbiome, there is another potential ‘food additive’ that may require very carefull toxicologic evaluation. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and similar herbicides, is heavily used in GMO crop production. Glyphosate has long been claimed by industry as safe because its main target is the shikamate pathway essential to plants and not used in human cell tissue. However, humans have a huge number of gut bacteria that DO utilize the shikamate pathway. Since industry recently had to go to EPA to up the allowable food residue in crops due to increased application and more frequent near-harvest applications, there were increasing amounts showing up in foods… thus becoming a food ‘additive’. Altering the shikamate pathway in the gut might possibly be very problematic for human health, as explained in other posts above. Does glyphosate transit the gut far enough, while still retaining the toxic effects, or not??? Was EPA premature in increasing the allowable glyphosate food residue limit?

    • Roberta Attanasio

      Good points, Ray. By the way, The Lancet Oncology has just published an article that lists glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” – this is a study from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. Unfortunately, the article is pay-walled. PBS has a fresh, nice story on it , which includes the obviously expected “response” of the glyphosate maker to the claims of carcinogenesis. The PBS story came out yesterday (March 29).

  • Peter M.

    First of all, the article was very well written and showed the problem behind emulsifiers and their potential effect on gut microbiota. Our natural flora completes so many functions, not only in our ability to digest foods, but also to protect us from disease. When naturally, healthy organisms line our gut, opportunistic pathogens have no place to stick to and thus are unable to inhabit the endothelial layer of the gut. Emulsifiers, if this recent study is correct, could allow our natural flora to overgrow, which may in itself cause disease or can make way for opportunistic pathogens to begin lining the gut. Making the gut more porous will also invite more opportunistic pathogens to reign in our digestive system. More studies will have to be done, and emulsifiers will have to be further tested before I believe action should be done.
    But overall I urge people to understand what they are eating and drinking. As someone who makes an effort to cook for himself and do research on the different ingredients inside of medications, supplements, and food, you need to understand what you are putting into your body. All too often I see reports of food and supplement companies pulling products from shelves because a particular ingredient caused death or disease. Emulsifiers, although I doubt the FDA will act as other commenters pointed out, may be the next product to be proven without a doubt to cause disease.

  • B.Kapalko

    I wanted to know more about the gut microbiota and how its detriment at the hands of food additives would affect the immune system. On this page, I found that “our gut microbiota contains tens of trillions of microorganisms, including at least 1000 different species of known bacteria with more than 3 million genes” and that two thirds of these bacteria are completely unique to us. They help digest undigested foods, they make essential vitamins, they combat pathogenic microorganisms, and they represent a layer of the primary immune system. I found an interesting article about the relationship of the gut microbiota and the immune system of the gut. The gut is a tube that is opened at both ends to the outside world, thus the lining constitutes the primary immune system much as our skin does. These bacteria in the gut can initiate adaptive and innate immune responses to foreign pathogens. They act much like epithelial cells, recognizing pathogens and causing signal cascades which elicit antibody and chemokine responses. They also help to establish a strong anti-inflammatory response. However if they are damaged or negatively affected as this article states, they can establish inflammatory diseases that have lasting effects beyond just the gut. That is why these additives should be regulated at a more safe level. More research needs to be conducted to provide an additive that is less harmful to our gut microbiota.

  • Diana Liaw

    This may seem a bit off topic, but while working on an assignment for a different class I came across a study linking gut inflammation and an increase in horizontal gene transfer. According to the CDC, the emergence of many antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria cause disease in more than 2 million people nationwide and death in at least 23,000 individuals. Plasmids are round circular DNA in prokaryotes that provides bacteria with an advantageous ability, which improves its survival fitness. Through conjugation, plasmids coding for antibiotic resistance may be replicated and transferred to other bacteria resulting in horizontal gene transfer (HGT). The gut is home to many different species of micrbiota such as Enterobacteriaceae, which include E.coli and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium (S. Tm). These bacteria are usually in concentrations <99% similar) was found in an E. coli strain. In order to investigate the possible HGT between the two bacteria, acute colitis (CD8+ T cells from CL4-TCR transgenic mice were transferred to VILLIN-HA mice) and coinfections of E. coli and Salmonella were induced in mice. Overall, the results of the study supported highly efficient HGT between the two bacteria promoting the reassortment of DNA among Enterobacteriaceae resulting in a greater chance of creating antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. I never actually considered the inflammation of the gut to have such adverse effects! If these food additives increase this kind of inflammation then ultimately aren’t the food additives creating factories (people with inflamed gut) of antibiotic resistant bacteria? Of course I know this isn’t the only cause of antibiotic resistant strains, but it sure does give me a completely different perspective! Especially for the future in combating these superbugs!

    1. http://www.pnas.org/content/109/4/1269.full

  • Mercy Adeboye

    American are very big on taste, they appreciate food that taste good. This is not necessarily a bad thing in most cases, but there are times when discipline is essential. The goal of including additives as part of food ingredients is simply to make the food look good and taste good. The normal flora in the gut has different functions. Some aid in digestion, others are there to occupy the lining of the gut by preventing the availability of space for other microbes in the gut. Changing the localization of these microbes will cause the immune system to see them as foreign, because, they are not occupying their natural location and also make the gut vulnerable to other microbes. This can cause autoimmune disease. Other than the fact that additives change the localization of the normal flora in the gut, there are also not good for the normal functioning of the liver. Bitter is not necessarily bad, eating bitter food helps the detoxification of the liver. One of the functions of the liver is detoxification and so there will be a build-up of toxins in the liver when there is no consumption of bitter food. This build-up can have other effects in the body. When you ask an average American the last time he/she had something bitter, they may not be able to remember because when given a choice between a juice with additive and water at a party, most people will go with the juice. It does not mean that when something is available, you have to take it. It all boils down to discipline. There are comments on the FDA not doing much about the food additives, but then, the FDA does not have control over what people consume. Since the choice of food is individual and personal, people should be determined to be disciplined in their choice of food and eat more of natural food. If they have to eat food with additives, it should not be as frequent. Choosing to shop at stores that have all natural food is a good starting point. Since eating food with additives causes colitis and other diseases, the people involved will eventually be placed on diet to control what they should eat. It is much better to be proactive and prevent getting to the point where you are constrained. It is not too late to make wise choices Americans!

    • S.Mashayekh

      I completely agree that we as Americans appreciate the taste of good food, but we also need to be educated on how harmful this food is to us as well. I feel the general public have a simple understanding that processed food is bad, but do not actually understand the true harm it can really cause. Half the time, browsing through Publix or Kroger, I would come across the healthier alternatives to the great tasting junk food and looking at the price of how expensive all the healthier food is to the rest, simply makes one want to turn away and just go with the less healthy choice of food. If healthy food was given the same price as the unhealthy processed food on shelves, then I’m sure more people would be attracted to buy them. Going off of your point about how bitter food is good for you, this is very true. Ginger, for example, as stated in this article, has the ability to treat arthritis, colic, diarrhea, heart conditions, a cold, flu-like symptoms, headaches, menstrual pain, and the list goes on. People never know these abilities of certain foods, because of its bitter taste. I feel though, if we were better informed of the amazing health benefits of non-processed food, people would give an effort to eat better, and these emulsifiers would not be such a great problem to our gut microbiota. If we gave the same time and effort to inform the public through social media about incredibly unhealthy McDonald’s, then we can surely spare a few more dollars to educate about food that has a greater ability to give you life. Then maybe, we would not be looked upon as one the most obese countries.

  • K. Soms

    While I do believe that many food additives can be convenient and beneficial for consumers, the consumption of certain additives should be taken with caution. As stated on the FDA’s website, limited scientific knowledge is available about the overall risks of any substance.
    The consumption of emulsifiers affects the gastrointestinal mucosal layer and allows bacterial translocation into extraintestinal sites, such as the liver, spleen, kidney, bloodstream, and mesenteric lymph node complex (Berg, 1999). The increased permeability of the mucosal layer allows the gut bacteria to reach the epithelial cells of the GI tract and cause opportunistic infections. Since the epithelial cells contain resident macrophages and dendritic cells, inflammation will occur once the bacteria encounter these cells. The immune cells will attempt to overcome this bacterial infection, resulting in prolonged inflammation and damage to the body. Therefore, the loss of gut microbiota in the GI tract may cause obesity/metabolic syndromes due to the loss of their metabolic functions in degradation of certain food products such as glycans. In order to combat this metabolic syndrome, another study suggests the use of a gut microbiota-targeted diet that includes whole grains, traditional Chinese medicinal foods, and prebiotics. This diet will help balance the microbiota composition as well as provide sufficient nutrition to the body. The study not only proved to be successful in weight loss in obese volunteers, but also showed decreased permeability in the gut. Therefore, people with metabolic syndromes or people with high risk for obesity should utilize this diet to improve the permeability of their intestines, reduce circulating antigen load, and reduce inflammation and metabolic phenotypes.

  • MVesela

    I’m not much of a food label fiend, but the few times that my eyes have grazed the small label on the back side of a Spongebob Kraft© Mac and Cheese box, it often came to a surprise as to the extent of unfamiliar chemicals that are added to this simple, kid friendly food. Granted, some of these food additives are needed for a greater shelf life, but is it all really essential? As stated in the above article, food additives, like emulsifiers, can pose a great risk to people’s well-being. The chemicals can cause numerous health problems for even the healthiest of immune systems. Despite this knowledge, the FDA has limited regulations on these additives. For instance, in the article Why M&M’s Are Made With Natural Coloring In The EU And Not The U.S., the author compares the use of coloring in foods in the United States with that of Europe. The United States stands firm with the use of certain artificial dyes to stimulate brighter, more intense colors in products that have lost color while processing. On the other hand, Europe sticks to natural extracts from fruits and vegetables to enhance color. Although they may not be as fluorescent as dyes, they get the job done. This brings up the question of whether a product’s image is more important than the health of a human being. In a country that is focused heavily on appearance and competition, it does not come as a surprise that the United States would risk putting an individual’s health in danger in order to sell their products more readily and at a cheaper cost of production. An interesting point mentioned in this article was how overseas, United States companies like McDonald’s use only natural coloring in their food, whereas in the U.S., the products are pumped with dyes. In my honest opinion, I feel that we aren’t trying hard enough in this country to change anything in regards to food additives. If it is known that emulsifiers and colorings do cause behavioral and immunological problems, it is not difficult to resort to a healthier solution, regardless of how much more expensive and less attractive it may be. As in most cases, not until there is a pandemic of issues correlated to additives will any forceful actions be taken.

    • H. Ngobili

      I agree the United States puts so much focus on obesity and body image but they are not focused on the harmful chemicals they are allowing in the food. It is crazy that the United States allows the use of so many food additives that other countries consider unsafe. For example dough conditioners like potassium bromate, a food additive used to make flour more elastic and stronger is capable of causing cancer. Other countries like Europe, china, and Canada have banned the use of potassium bromate, but in the United States the FDA just limits the amount that can be added to flour and encourages people to voluntarily not use it. The United States method of chemical regulation relies on companies voluntarily not using food additives. Even though many companies like subway and Panera bread have made the decision on their own to eliminate harmful additives from their products the FDA should have stronger regulations on the food additives allowed in the food. The United States should focus more on what is being put in our body from the food we eat that could eventually kill us.


  • Gabriel Beltran

    What a fascinating article considering the ubiquitous nature of food additives! Without a doubt, additives have varying useful effects which are worthwhile to consumers, yet the elusive negative effects that the emulsifiers such as CMC and P80 may have should definitely be a motive to second-guess what one puts in their mouth. It’s mind-staggering, yet self-explanatory, that alterations to the normal flora in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to inflammatory effects compounded by an active immune system. The idea suggests a correlation, whether the information is directly or indirectly stated: genetic and environmental conditions increase the predisposition and manifestation of immunogenicity. To put focus at the subject matter at hand, an increase in consumption for foods containing additives increases the chances of developing autoimmune diseases like IBD as seen in Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. To expound on the idea, I would be interested and unsurprised if the geographic focus is that in developed countries, since it further supports the notion of the hygiene hypothesis. The lifestyle in these countries varies in terms of not only cleanliness, but of food consumption differences that dictate changes to the microbiota. Therefore, it serves no surprise why individuals begin to suffer from diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, or obesity per relation to the article, in addition to aforementioned diseases (though other consequences are undeniable). Therefore, as my previous commentators have regarded, it is important that the circumstances presented be carefully and personally regarded and not be a subset of categorization by the FDA, since their guidelines serve as a general means of general proportions not one of singularity purposes. Per the previous posts: 1) It is undeniable that the public should become aware, but ignorance can be blinding even in the face of research advancement. Nonetheless, food coloring as an additional harmful component in food composition apart from additives only further promotes the article’s focus 2) As stated earlier, variations(genetic or environmental) cause detrimental effects to the body leading to hypersensitivity. Therefore, increased mast cell histamine production, eosinophil, and generalized inflammation are unfortunate allergic responses that would affect the respiratory system and deter the intake of certain foods. 3) There are many research studies that identify inflammation from changes in microbiota (IBD), whereby even an abundant immune system is deleterious to proper immune function, which in essence diminishes an effective or “strong” immune system. Thankfully, there are many options available to consumers, whereby everyone has a dictate in the matter of what gets ingested to mechanically and chemically get broken down into essential nutrients in the body. The question is therefore personal and rhetorical, to consume or not consume foods containing additives? To each their own, but as the saying goes, you are what you eat!

  • twynn

    Someone mentioned that emulsifiers shouldn’t be a big concern because it does not affect a lot of people. However, I believe the number of affected individuals will continue to rise and the problem will become worse. Its just another thing added to the list of disease causing agents. But, living in a world that is so fast pace, I can see where it would be difficult to take away emulsifiers from foods. I was reading that there is a layer of mucous that separates intestinal cells from bacteria. If they come in contact with each other (from emulsifiers) they stimulate the immune system and cause inflammation. As we’ve learned in class, inflammation is the dilation of our blood vessels that also causes tissue damage. A Georgia State microbiologist, Benoit Chassaing, is now conducting a study to compare people who fully avoid emulsifiers to people who are on a standard diet, to fully understand the issue with today’s foods.

  • Brian K.

    I totally agree that this work cannot be ignored. It’s very concerning that these emulsifiers could lead to gluttonous behavior. If this is true, the cause of obesity may be less attributed to genetic predisposition or behavior but to the ingredients in modern foods. Even so, I don’t think the FDA will prohibit the use of these emulsifiers unless there are evidence showing more direct detrimental effects to public health. Also, I would like to know if the change in microbiota leading to low-grade inflammation can cause weakened immunity due to the immune cells becoming depleted by the chronic inflammation.

  • LKennel

    In my own opinion emulsifier use will never be banned unless the FDA can find a different substance that will serve the same purpose and be less harmful. They are needed to make foods appealing and keep them looking fresher lounger. It was said that investigations were being done to see their harm on foods bt I honestly don’t think that much effort was put into it. Although they lead to obesity in some people due to increased consumption of food and inflammatory problems it doesn’t happen to everyone and we all consume them. In their minds why fix something that only has adverse effects only on a hand full of individuals. I’m not saying that using these food preservatives is a good thing or shouldn’t be looked more closely at for their actual harm but without them many of our foods would be wasted and not consumed due to quicker expiration or unappealing appearance. The fact that it changes the location of microbiota in the gut isn’t good at all but not everyone gets sick so I would survey people that get sick from consumption and see what predisposition they may have that could trigger the microbiotas toxicity in their body.

    • A. Jones

      Instead of taking a survey of people that get sick, it would be more effective and efficient to test for this genetic predisposition, similar to the way we test for phenylketonuria and birth. This will ensure that we do not have to wait for people to fall ill, but rather, we will be able to educate them on foods that they need to avoid. Preventative medicine is always better than curing an already sick patient. Furthermore, you state that this only affects a hand full of people, which according to the study is incorrect. Only the people with the genetic predisposition are likely to develop Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis due to the emulsifiers. However, even with a normal immune system, the emulsifies are contributing to obesity, hyperglycemia, and insulin resistance which are all major medical abnormalities facing America today.

    • H, Ngobili

      I agree that the emulsifiers will never be banned unless an alternative substance is found and/or created that will fulfill the same purpose and be less detrimental to humans. Since the number of people affected is considered a minority in comparison to those that are not affected, it is not an economic concern for the FDA. The food companies that produce products that use emulsifiers to preserve foods more than likely lobby lots of money to fight against those who are opposing the use of emulsifiers. America favors big business because big businesses drives our economy. Big businesses generate lots of revenue by keeping products affordable and accessible to a vast number of consumers. It is much more economically efficient for the FDA to allow the use of emulsifiers than not to even though they are related to various health issues. One reason is it keeps the costs of food cheaper because foods have a longer life expectancy, which in turn encourages consumers to spend money and buy more than they need due to cheaper prices. Secondly, even if a person were to sue for health problems were correlated with the use of these food additives; it would be hard for a single person to prove because of the genetic problems they may already have. In short terms it is cheaper to keep these food additives on the market because the gain exceed the losses in the eyes of the FDA even if it means sacrifices some lives.

  • Diana Liaw

    It’s pretty intuitive that alterations in gut microbiota will have a direct effect on the gastrointestinal tract, but I wonder how wide the scope of research completed by the FDA is. I recently read about a study that shed some light on the implications altered gut microbiota had on other immune responses outside the gut. For example, many antigens that are exposed to the respiratory tract can also be found down in the gut where regulatory T-cells, which have anti-inflammatory abilities, are stimulated by immature dendritic cells. These regulatory T-cells help the body develop an immunological tolerance (including oral tolerance). This is all important because studies by the CDC have reported that respiratory related allergies have significantly increased, and food allergies have also risen approximately 50% from 1997 to 2011. Makes me wonder if a rise in these allergies could correlate with the introduction of a wide and heavy use of CMC and/or P80. In addition, on a completely different and less scientific note, the FDA is a huge organization that is susceptible to bureaucratic politics and that makes me question how much effort is proportioned to actually keep such heavily integrated food additives off the market.

    1. http://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats
    2. http://www.healthline.com/health-news/children-allergies-and-asthma-on-the-rise-110813
    3. http://www.8853.co.kr/data/Board/shopboard_5/64cc6ac468a226482dfa4cfbbf7e3756_16_.pdf

    • S. Henry

      I agree that the FDA is subject to giving into politics and you brought up a great point earlier questioning whether the rise in food allergies could be due to commercial use of emulsifiers and I think they could based on the timing in which commercial use was started. Using emulsifiers in food has been going on since the late nineteenth century, starting with natural emulsifiers in butter, cheese, whipped cream and ice cream. The use of synthetic emulsifiers on the other hand started in the late 1800s with French chemist Hippolyte Mege-Mouries with the invention of margarine as a cheap substitute for butter which has led to the commercial use of synthetic emulsifiers in the second half of the twentieth century. This gives some time for public popularity of the products, regular exposure to synthetic emulsifiers from continued use, and the emergence of a rise in food allergies in the late twentieth century as you suggested earlier. It made me wonder if there were positive effects assosicated with natural emulsifiers compared to synthetic emulsifiers in food. There are multiple studies going on looking at natural emulsifiers replacing synthetic emulsifiers as food additives. For example, in the study Inulin and derivatives as key ingredients in functional foods, scientists are looking at inulin which is a carbohydrate in many fruits and vegetables produced from the chicory root. It is already used in some foods with multiple benefits including improved immune response and protection from intestinal disorders, proving good reasons to continue testing and looking at expanded use of inulin and its derivatives in the food market. These results are compared to the study Food emulsifier polysorbate 80 increases intestinal absorption of di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate in rats. In this study scientists found that the food emulsifier polysorbate 80 in relatively high concentrations can cause an increase in the absorption of di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) resulting in damage to the mitochondria of enterocytes in the form of its structure and function. Unfortunately there just is not enough confirmed data and strict correlations to say food additives are harmful enough to be removed.

      1.Food Emulsifiers and Their Applications
      2.Food emulsifier polysorbate 80 increases intestinal absorption of di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate in rats.
      3.Inulin and derivatives as key ingredients in functional foods

  • P. Sherman

    Some of the harmful effects of processed foods have been known for a while now; however, researchers continue to discover more health issues arising from the consumption of such products. One example of this is the adverse alteration of the gut microbiota that is caused by the ingestion of added emulsifiers. As discussed in a review article published by scientists at Immunosciences Lab, Inc. in L.A., food coloring seems to pose another health concern. According to the researchers, the addition of artificial dyes to foods has risen by 500% over the past 50 years; this huge increase may be a cause of several disorders that have grown more prevalent during these years. The article states that the molecules which constitute synthetic food dyes are very small; thus, the immune system cannot efficiently get rid of them. These synthetic molecules are able to form covalent bonds to food and body proteins, thereby evading, or even disrupting, the immune system and perhaps causing disturbances to other bodily functions. The dye molecules can produce similar effects as the emulsifiers by making the gut more permeable and causing inflammatory cascade. The dye tartrazine, or Yellow No. 5, has been suggested as a cause of food allergies or hypersensitivities. A recent study on mice revealed lymphocyte infiltration and inflammation in the small intestine after regular exposure to tartrazine over a 13 week period. In addition to this, the intestinal villi of the tartrazine-treated mice were 50% shorter than those of the control group. Tartrazine has also been linked to behavioral problems in children, including ADHD. In spite of the increasing amount of data revealing the harmful effects of synthetic food dyes, the FDA continues to allow the use of obscene amounts of these additives in food. For instance, the FDA has set the maximum daily intake of tartrazine to 500mg; this is enough dye to stain an entire swimming pool yellow. Several reports have been published in scientific journals discussing the findings of colored organs during autopsies; these occurrences exemplify the ability of food dyes to bind to body proteins and the intense amounts of these dyes allowed in consumed foods. It is astounding that the FDA and other food regulation institutions continue to allow the use of these synthetic compounds in food despite the cumulating scientific evidence that proves the detrimental effects of artificial additives. The public needs to be made more aware of these additives and the potential harm they can cause.

    • Diana Liaw

      I completely agree that food additives cause harm and that there have been many studies to support it. I even have a friend who has told me he’s allergic to caramel coloring number 105, which I found to be crazy at the time. But (as Devil’s advocate), some studies find no significant correlation between the two (below). And there are some other studies that show a link between tartrazine and people with ADHD but no harm to human development, and since it only affects a subset of people maybe the FDA finds that to be statistically insignificant when considering the color additive’s effect on the population as a whole. So perhaps the FDA is waiting for a resounding confirmation in addition to a negative effect on every almost single person in order pull any heavily integrated food additives off the market. Especially since, as mentioned by LKennel below, these food additives prolong the shelf life and make the foods more appealing.

      1. http://www.adhdbasics.info/library/lib/Harley1978a.pdf
      2. http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/content/90/1/178.long

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *