Popular food additive 'disturbs' gut bacteria and fuels inflammation

A common additive found in many food products, beverages, and supplements has been linked to gut bacteria changes that cause inflammation of the colon, fueling Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The findings come from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where researchers found that titanium dioxide 'significantly' alters the composition of gut bacteria in mice with harmful results on digestive health.

Foodborne titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO2 NPs) were recently banned in France over their potential health consequences, but remain both legal and commonly used in a large number of countries, including the United States. According to the researchers behind the latest study, most exposure to TiO2 NPs comes from foods — it is listed as an additive with the name 'E171.'

If you live in a country where this additive is legal, the odds are high that you've consumed it many times; it can be found in a huge variety of products, including ice cream and other desserts, bubble gum, candy, various types of beverages, and other similar things. Why do companies use this additive? It gives the product more of a solid white appearance.

The study states that at least one-third of the foodborne titanium dioxide is nanoparticle-sized, which poses a unique health risk. When these particles are smaller than 100 nanometers, they may work their way into the body's various tissues and start to build up over time. Using both obese and normal-weight mice, the researchers found that this additive — as well as the nanoparticles alone — caused negative changes to the gut microbiota.

The mice given titanium dioxide nanoparticles alone experienced greater changes, however, regardless of whether they were obese. The obese mice were more likely to have 'adverse effects' from the nanoparticles, potentially resulting in more damage overall compared to their slimmer counterparts. The compound was found to specifically harm colon health, causing a decrease in essential short-chain fatty acids and increases in pro-inflammatory cytokines and immune cells.