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Common food additive could lead to colon inflammation

Researchers worry about the effects this ingredient could have on consumers’ health

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Photo (c) Piotr Wytrazek - Getty Images
Recent studies have found how frequently utilized food additives can affect everything from kids’ health to the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, and now another new study has explored how consumers’ gut health could be impacted by these commonly used ingredients. 

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst conducted a study on mice which suggests that titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO2 NPs) -- a food additive commonly found in candy, gum, and desserts -- can inflame the colon and disrupt the natural function of the gut. 

“I think our results have a lot of implications in the food industry and on human health and nutrition,” said researcher Hang Xiao. “The study confirmed a strong linkage between foodborne titanium dioxide nanoparticles and adverse health effects.” 

The risk to gut health 

For the study, the researchers gave two groups of mice different diets to determine how the food additives affected their gut health. Half of the mice followed healthier diets while the other half had meals higher in fat content. While those on the higher fat diet were more likely to experience gut-related issues, both groups of mice reacted negatively to titanium dioxide exposure. 

The researchers found that consuming TiO2 NPs increased the number of cells in the colon linked to inflammation and affected overall colon health. Moreover, those on the higher fat TiO2 NPs diets came out of the study either obese or overweight and at a higher risk of all associated side effects. 

Though the researchers are curious to see how long-term exposure to titanium dioxide can affect consumers, the researchers say the findings from this study present enough cause for concern. 

“The results support our hypothesis that including TiO2 NPs in the diet disrupts the homeostasis of the gut microbiota, which in turn leads to colonic inflammation in the mice,” said Xiao. 

Being mindful of ingredients

Though titanium dioxide was recently banned in France because of side effects like the ones discovered in this study, the ingredient continues to be used in the U.S. and other countries around the world. 

The researchers explained that TiO2 NPs are used to make the food additive E171, which can lighten the color of popular food or drink items. The particles used in food and drink production range in size, which could be problematic for consumers. 

“The bigger particles won’t be absorbed easily, but the smaller ones could get into the tissues and accumulate somewhere,” said Xiao. 

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