How frequently do you eat foods with nanoparticles in them? The use of nanoparticles in foods is increasing every year, with the result that people may eat foods with them daily (thus having chronic exposure). Nanoparticles in foods are ingredients so small that they are measured in nanometers or billionths of one meter. The most common nanoparticle is the food additive titanium dioxide, which in Europe is known as E171. Titanium dioxide is added to many processed foods, candy, and even supplements and non-prescription medicines (e.g. antihistamines) as a "coloring" to make foods whiter or brighter. Currently there are no restrictions on using titanium dioxide nanoparticles in foods.
We still know very little about whether titanium dioxide nanoparticles have health risks to humans, but studies suggest they may cause intestinal inflammation, may disrupt gut microbes, and may migrate to other parts of the body. Now another study is raising more questions about the safety of titanium dioxide in food. It was done in mice, but the researchers feel it applies to humans. The researchers found that titanium dioxide resulted in a "pro-inflammatory environment and biofilm formation" in the intestines of the mice, and in this way could predispose humans to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer. Bottom line: Read food ingredient lists!
From Science Daily: Common food additive found to affect gut microbiota
University of Sydney research provides new evidence that nanoparticles, which are present in many food items, may have a substantial and harmful influence on human health. The study investigated the health impacts of food additive E171 (titanium dioxide nanoparticles) which is commonly used in high quantities in foods and some medicines as a whitening agent. Found in more than 900 food products such as chewing gum and mayonnaise, E171 is consumed in high proportion everyday by the general population.
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) which could trigger diseases such as inflammatory bowel diseases and colorectal cancer.
While nanoparticles have been commonly used in medicines, foods, clothing, and other applications, the possible impacts of nanoparticles, especially their long term effects, are still poorly understood.
Titanium dioxide consumption has considerably increased in the last decade and has already been linked to several medical conditions, and although it is approved in food, there is insufficient evidence about its safety.
"There is increasing evidence that continuous exposure to nanoparticles has an impact on gut microbiota composition, and since gut microbiota is a gate keeper of our health, any changes to its function have an influence on overall health." "This study presents pivotal evidence that consumption of food containing food additive E171 (titanium dioxide) affects gut microbiota as well as inflammation in the gut, which could lead to diseases such as inflammatory bowel diseases and colorectal cancer," he said.
Co-lead author Associate Professor Laurence Macia from the University of Sydney said: "Our research showed that titanium dioxide interacts with bacteria in the gut and impairs some of their functions which may result in the development of diseases. We are saying that its consumption should be better regulated by food authorities."
"This study investigated effects of titanium dioxide on gut health in mice and found that titanium dioxide did not change the composition of gut microbiota, but instead it affected bacteria activity and promoted their growth in a form of undesired biofilm. Biofilms are bacteria that stick together and the formation of biofilm has been reported in diseases such as colorectal cancer," said Associate Professor Macia, who is an immunologist expert on the impacts of the gut and gut microbiota on health from the Faculty of Medicine and Health and the Charles Perkins Centre.