Emulsifiers In Food Risk: Common Additive Promotes Colon Cancer In Mice, Study Finds

Economically, processed foods make a lot of sense because they're often cheaper — but are they also good for our bodies? In a new study published in the journal Cancer Research, researchers from Georgia State University have linked emulsifiers with triggering colon cancer in mice.

Emulsifiers are added to most processed foods in order to extend shelf life and add texture to the foods. They are most frequently found in salad dressings, baked goods, ice cream, chips, and margarine, according to the Food Additives and Ingredients Association.

The study revealed that emulsifiers changed the good bacteria living in the guts of mice and also promoted metabolic syndrome, which is a risk factor for diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and inflammation leading to cancer.

ice cream Emulsifiers, which are added to many processed foods, have been connected with triggering colon cancer in mice. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Researchers discovered these findings after feeding mice two very common emulsifiers — polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose — in their water over a period of three months. The team found that this created and maintained a pro-inflammatory environment, which makes the mice more susceptible to developing colonic tumors.

"The incidence of colorectal cancer has been markedly increasing since the mid-20th century," lead researcher Emilie Viennois said in a press release. "A key feature of this disease is the presence of an altered intestinal microbiota that creates a favorable niche for tumorigenesis."

Earlier reports by the Georgia State research team revealed that emulsifiers inflame guts and cause obesity in mice, Medical Daily previously reported. Once the emulsifiers were digested by the mice, their blood-glucose levels went awry, and then inflamed their intestinal mucus layer, which contributed to weight gain, specifically concentrated in the abdomen. 

Source: Viennois E, Gewirtz AT, Chassaing B. Common food additive promotes colon cancer in mice. Cancer Research. 2016.

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