According to HNGN, the function of emulsifiers in foods is to enhance the texture and help preserve shelf life. However, this simple additive could have detrimental effects on gut bacteria, resulting in ailments like Crohn’s disease and colitis.
The report has come out of Georgia State University, and it claims that emulsifiers cause changes within the digestive tract, leading to intestinal inflammation and, eventually, full blown Crohn’s disease. There has been an alarming spike in cases of type-2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis lately, especially in the developed world, and the researchers believe the rise of processed foods are to blame.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are painful and often debilitating conditions that can keep those diagnosed confined to a bed, a toilet, or even a hospital room. Medication is available to treat Crohn’s disease and colitis, but there are currently no cures.
According to Reuters,the research was performed on mice, which were regularly given water or food injected with two kinds of emulsifiers frequently used in processed foods, polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose. The experiment revealed that the additives tended to cause mild intestinal inflammation and other symptoms of obesity-related conditions like Crohn’s disease, including unusual levels of blood glucose and weight gain. The symptoms the mice experienced were parallel to the symptoms and discomfort of humans suffering from colitis and Crohn’s disease, although the mice needed to be genetically prone to the condition.
The study was led by Benoit Chassaing, a Biomedical Science researcher, who claims the effects of emulsifiers can be applied to humans and Crohn’s disease.
“The dramatic increase in these diseases has occurred despite consistent human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor. Food interacts intimately with the microbiota so we considered what modern additions to the food supply might possibly make gut bacteria more pro-inflammatory.”
Now that Benoit has confirmed that emulsifiers in processed foods lead to Crohn’s disease and colitis, he and his team of researchers plan to move on to test humans for the same effects, as well as testing other kinds of emulsifiers.
“We were thinking there was some non-genetic factor out there, some environmental factor, that would be explaining the increase in these chronic inflammatory diseases,” said Georgia State immunologist Andrew Gewirtz. “And we thought that emulsifiers were a good candidate because they are so ubiquitous and their use has roughly paralleled the increase in these diseases. But I guess we were surprised at how strong the effects were.”