It’s no secret that chemicals contained in the processed food products we consume can do harm to our bodies, particularly our gut microbiome.
A recent Israeli study found common artificial sweeteners, used in everything from diet soft drinks to low-calorie foods, may have a harmful effect on our gut health.
The presence of artificial sweeteners in American diets promotes glucose intolerance that leaves our bodies vulnerable to conditions like adult-onset diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
According to a recent study in Nature, you can add FDA-approved food chemicals called emulsifiers to the growing list of substances that can harm your gut health and trigger metabolic syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Are there detergents in your processed foods?
Food emulsifiers, like polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose, are commonly used to add texture (think ice cream), prevent oils and other ingredients from separating (think mayonnaise) and extend the shelf life of processed foods.
What’s more, these chemicals are similar to detergents and have been found to affect the mucus barrier and microbes associated with it, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Researchers at Georgia State University studied mice that were fed these chemicals for 12 weeks, to determine how their presence would change the healthy balance of bacteria in their guts and promote disease.
Overall, consumption of these common emulsifiers caused alterations in the composition of gut bacteria in mice, activating the expression of more pro-inflammatory genes by their immune systems. Plus, these altered bacteria were able to permeate the dense mucus layer that lines the gut, normally an area mostly free from bacteria.
Despite no changes in diet, healthy mice fed these food emulsifiers developed mild intestinal inflammation or metabolic health problems, including hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, obesity and increased appetites.
The results were worse among mice genetically engineered to be predisposed to inflammatory gut health problems. The presence of emulsifiers boosted the frequency and severity in which these animals developed chronic colitis.
When gut bacteria from the normal mice who had been fed food emulsifiers were transplanted into germ-free mice, these animals gained fat, became glucose-intolerant and developed low-grade inflammation.
Small amounts of food emulsifiers make a difference
Food emulsifiers only account for a portion of the 17 pounds of food chemicals — flavorings, colorings and preservatives to name a few — the average American consumes every year, according to clinical nutritionist Dr. Elizabeth Lipski to Rodale News.
Going organic may not help you bypass those health problems either. Georgia State University researchers are currently testing many more food emulsifiers, including chemicals like soy lecithin which are considered “natural,” to determine if they cause similar gut health problems.
Fortunately, you can protect your gut from a host of health problems like obesity by promoting greater microbial diversity in the gut. This can be as easy as taking a multi-species probiotic like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic.