A popular food additive used in everything from dill pickles to ice cream is now linked to colon cancer, thanks to the way it impacts the gut.
Emulsifiers are added to most processed foods to improve food texture and extend shelf life. But it also throws off healthy levels of intestinal bacteria, triggering chronic, low-level inflammation that promotes colorectal cancer, according to a new study.
To be clear, scientists identified the potential cancer-promoting effects in an animal study. But the way I see it, it’s best to steer clear of these ingredients since various other studies suggest they impact the gut in unhealthy ways.
The finding comes on the heels of another gut breakthrough where researchers discovered fungus may trigger Crohn’s disease. Clearly, the microbiome greatly influences our disease risk. That’s why I make gut health the centerpiece of my practice and my personal health regimen.
Let’s take a closer look at this important new study, including ways to avoid this harmful class of processed food additives.
Hippocrates is famous for declaring that food is medicine. But his quote came long before the creation of lab-derived ingredients and processed foods. Here, we have just another example of how ingredients we often overlook can spell disaster for our health. In the recent food additive and colon cancer study, researchers at Georgia State University’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences found that mice that regularly consumed dietary emulsifiers experienced exacerbated tumor development. The results appeared in the journal Cancer Research.
For this study, researchers focused on two of the most commonly used emulsifiers called polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose. They fed mice doses comparable to the cumulative amounts people would eat daily in processed foods. While the following findings need to be replicated in humans, I’m not taking any chances and will continue to avoid these “detergent-like” ingredients.
Consuming emulsifiers drastically changed the species composition of the gut microbiota in a manner that made it more pro-inflammatory, creating a niche favoring cancer induction and development, researchers pointed out. Alterations in bacterial species resulted in bacteria expressing more flagellin and lipopolysaccharide, which activate pro-inflammatory gene expression by the immune system.