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 Did you know that some foods have nanoparticles added to them? Which foods? Nanoparticles in foods are ingredients so small that they are measured in nanometers or billionths of one meter. The most common nanoingredients are: titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide, and zinc oxide. What, if anything, do nanoingredients do to humans? That is, are there any effects from ingesting them? No one really knows. However, several articles in the past year raise a number of concerns, especially because so much is still unknown. Meanwhile the use of nanoingredients is unregulated in the U.S., and the number of foods with nanoingredients is growing rapidly.

Nanoparticles are typically used in foods as additives, flavorings, coloring, or even anti-bacterial coatings for packaging. It is thought that nanocoatings are being used on some fruits and vegetables. Even though ingredients such as titanium dioxide are considered to be "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) before they're made into nanoparticles, the question is whether they’re safe in their nanoparticle form. This is because nanoparticles can exhibit new or altered properties at nanoscale dimensions. Some concerns about nanoparticles are that they are small enough to penetrate the skin, lungs, digestive system, and perhaps pass through the blood-brain barrier and placental-fetal barrier, and cause damage.

A 2016 report by Friends of The Earth reported finding nanoparticles in various brands of baby formulas. None listed nanoparticles as ingredients, but independent laboratory testing found the baby formulas to contain them. The Medscape article (below) reported on recent research  that suggested that nanoingredients can cause problems such as intestinal inflammation, especially for certain groups, such as those with intestinal bowel disease (IBD). According to the Science News article (below): "Tests show that on average more than one-third of the titanium dioxide in foods is in the form of nano-sized particles."

The Center For Food Safety states: "Bulk scale titanium dioxide is used as a food coloring agent, often to make foods look whiter or brighter, but the FDA has not set exposure limits yet for its use at the nano scale in the US. Moreover, the largest review of nano titanium dioxide studies show that many basic questions have not been answered. Candies like M&M’s, processed cheeses, and chewing gum have all been found to contain nano titanium dioxide.  Nano titanium dioxide is small enough to cross through the intestine and into organs where it can damage DNA and disrupt cell function." They have established a searchable data base of foods containing nanoparticles. The list is incomplete, but some popular foods containing nanoingredients (may not be on ingredient list, but lab tests found them) include: M&Ms, Lindt chocolate, Dannon Greek Plain Yogurt, Cadbury Milk Chocolate bars, Nabisco Chips Ahoy cookies, and Nabisco Oreos.

From Medscape [UPDATE: The Medscape link no longer works. Link to original study and to a discussion of the research in The Rheumatologist.]:  Titanium Dioxide Additives May Boost Intestinal Inflammation

Murine [mice] and other studies suggest that titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles, widely used as food additives and in drug formulations, may be involved in intestinal inflammation, according to Swiss researchers..... "It seems that titanium dioxide nanoparticles are not harmful for a healthy person with a normal intestinal barrier. But this may be different in an individual with impaired intestinal barrier function such as patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).".... IBD is increasing in many nations undergoing westernization. Among possible causes are microparticles of agents such as Ti02, which are used to improve the appearance of products including food.

The researchers go on to point out that there is increasing evidence that exposure to TiO2 "can cause adverse effects, including the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) inflammatory responses and tumor formation.".....Finally, wrote the investigators, "An increase of titanium burden in blood of patients with ulcerative colitis having active disease was found, evidencing an impaired barrier function and suggesting that TiO2 nanoparticles could pose a specific risk to patients with IBD." ...continue reading "Are Foods Containing Nanoparticles Safe To Eat?"