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Common Food Additive Alter Gut Bacteria Potentially Increasing Risk of Developing Chronic Intestinal Inflammation

carboxymethylcellulose food additive
Common Food Additive Alter Gut Bacteria Potentially Increasing Risk of Developing Chronic Intestinal Inflammation

Scientists have conducted a first-of-its-kind study that looks at the effect of a common food additive on human gut microbiota. They found that the emulsifier carboxymethylcellulose alters the intestinal environment of the healthy human microbiome, which potentially increases the risk of developing chronic intestinal inflammation.

gut microbiota of emulsifier-fed mouse

Mice fed emulsifiers had bacteria (red) deep in the mucus layer (green) so they were closer to intestinal cells (purple and blue) than they should be. (PHOTO: Researchers of the study/Georgia State University)

What is Carboxymethylcellulose? Is It Safe?

Food additives have been approved for food consumption since the 20th century because they are proven safe based on several studies and tests, New Atlas reported.

More so, they are usually eliminated in feces and are not observed by the body. But with a growing body of research on the human microbiome, scientists have noticed that some food additives are also hurting the good bacteria.

For example, titanium dioxide was used for decades as a white food coloring agent. It has been long known to be non-toxic, but scientists only recently discovered that it adversely affects the gut microbiome, especially when delivered in the form of nanoparticles.

But a recent study from researchers at Georgia State University has also sounded the alarm on the food additive carboxymethylcellulose (CMC). Since the 1960s, CMC was approved as safe to use in foods and is commonly used as a thickening agent or emulsifier. CMC is sometimes referred to as a “cellulose gum” and added to food items as a “dietary fiber.” 

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CMC Alters Human Gut Microbiota

In a press release by the university via EurekAlert! it says that experiments on mice models showed that CMC and some other emulsifiers altered gut bacteria, which resulted in severe forms of chronic inflammatory conditions, such as colitis, metabolic syndrome, and colon cancer.

Researchers also replicated their study on humans but monitored their intestinal bacteria and metabolites since it will take years for humans to be affected the same way as the mice models. They found that long-term consumption of CMC changed the gut microbiota in the colon, and even reduced some of the species.

Fecal samples suggest that CMC-treated patients have stark depletion of beneficial metabolites that are responsible for maintaining a healthy colon. Also, colonoscopy tests showed that CMC-treated participants have gut bacteria encroaching into the mucus, which is characteristic of inflammatory bowel diseases and type 2 diabetes.

The team concluded that the study disproves claims that food additive CMC just passes through. More so, it supports the conclusions of animal studies that long-term consumption of this additive promotes chronic inflammatory diseases, prompting more studies on this additive.

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