Food additives improve the flavor, appearance, quality and shelf life of processed food, but regular consumption can lead to adverse side effects such as digestive disorders, asthma, obesity and diabetes.

A new study has found that certain types of emulsifier E, the food additives commonly used in pastries, cakes, desserts, chocolate, bread, margarine and ready meals, can elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Some studies have shown that the use of emulsifiers can disturb the gut bacteria, which in turn increases inflammation. This raises the susceptibility to cardiovascular problems. In the latest study, researchers evaluated the risk of cardiovascular disease with exposure to the additives.

The team followed up with 95,442 French adults who were part of a cohort study between 2009 and 2021.

"During the first two years of follow-up, participants completed at least three (and up to 21) 24-hour online dietary records. Each food and beverage item consumed was then matched at the brand level against three databases to identify the presence and the dose of any food additive. Laboratory tests were also performed to provide quantitative data," researchers said in a news release.

The participants were also requested to report any incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD), such as heart attack or stroke. The cases were validated by reviewing their medical records. Deaths related to CVD were verified through the death register.

After an average of seven years, the participants who recorded a high intake of total celluloses (E460-E468), cellulose (E460) and carboxymethylcellulose (E466) had an elevated risk of CVD, particularly coronary heart disease.

Increased intake of emulsifiers E471 and E472 showed elevated risks of cardiovascular issues. Among the emulsifiers, E472b showed a greater risk of CVD and cerebrovascular diseases, while E472c showed an increased risk of CVD and coronary heart disease. The team also found an increased risk of coronary heart disease with a high intake of E339.

Although further large-scale studies are needed to confirm the findings, researchers hope the study will "contribute to the re-evaluation of regulations around food additive usage in the food industry to protect consumers."

"Meanwhile, several public health authorities recommend limiting the consumption of ultra-processed foods as a way of limiting exposure to non-essential controversial food additives," they said.