Emulsifiers, which are added to most processed foods to aid texture and extend shelf life, can negatively afect gut microbiota, causing intestinal inflammation that promotes the development of inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic syndrome, new research shows.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, afflicts millions of people and is often severe and debilitating. Metabolic syndrome is a group of very common obesity-related disorders that can lead to type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular and/or liver diseases. Incidence of IBD and metabolic syndrome has been markedly increasing since the mid-20th century.
The research, published the journal Nature, led by Georgia State University Institute for Biomedical Sciences’ researchers Drs. Benoit Chassaing and Andrew T. Gewirtz, suggests emulsifiers might be partially responsible for disturbing the balance of this natural bacterial population thus increasing the incidence of these diseases.
“A key feature of these modern plagues is alteration of the gut microbiota in a manner that promotes inflammation,” says Gewirtz.
“The dramatic increase in these diseases has occurred despite consistent human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor,” says Chassaing. “Food interacts intimately with the microbiota so we considered what modern additions to the food supply might possibly make gut bacteria more pro-inflammatory.”
Addition of emulsifiers to food seemed to fit the time frame for the acceleration of these diseases and had been shown to promote bacterial translocation (the passage of viable resident bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract to normally sterile tissues such as the lining of the intestine, as well as the heart lungs and other internal organs).