Two Common Food Additives Linked to Colon Cancer

What food manufacturers use to maximize shelf life of processed food products may not be healthy for human health. That’s what a new study has found.

A team of researchers at Georgia State University found in their study that emulsifiers that are added to processed foods to improve texture and extend their shelf life may be linked to colon cancer, at least in mice.

In an experiment with mice model, the researchers found that regular consumption of two commonly used emulsifiers, namely carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80, triggered changes in microorganism community in the intestinal tract that promoted inflammation and conferred a favorable environment to tumors to grow.

Emulsifiers are chemicals that are added to certain foods such as ice cream and mayonnaise to make it possible for water and oil to get mixed well, as oily and water-based ingredients don’t bled naturally.

Colon cancer, also known as bowel cancer, colorectal cancer or rectal cancer, is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Previous studies have shown that diet has a direct impact on microbiota in the intestines and gut microflora play a role in colon cancer.

“The incidence of colorectal cancer has been markedly increasing since the mid-20th century,” said lead author of the study Emilie Viennois, an assistant professor at Georgia State’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences. “A key feature of this disease is the presence of an altered intestinal microbiota that creates a favorable niche for [the production of tumors],” she added.

In their study, Viennois and her team fed mice doses of the two emulsifiers for three months and found that animals who ingested emulsifiers got their microbiota in the gut severely modified, which in turn promoted inflammation and made the intestines a supportive environment for tumor growth.

Moving a step further, the research team then transplanted microbiota from mice who had been fed the emulsifiers to germ-free mice. They noticed, the germ-free mice also exhibited changes in their microorganisms community in the intestinal tract.

Since results of animal studies are not always replicated in humans, further investigations are needed before emulsifiers can be branded as cancer-causing agents, the researchers admitted.

Meanwhile, Viennois has said since many processed food items contain emulsifiers, “I would tell people to try to cook instead of using food industry products.”

“In meals, mix processed foods with some homemade food so you don’t have huge exposure to emulsifiers in one meal,” she advised.

The latest study results were published Nov. 7 in the journal Cancer Research.