This latest scientific study adds to a growing list of research we have reported on linking titanium dioxide–a commonly used food additive and nanoparticle–to serious digestive conditions. Unfortunately, as the list of scientific studies exposing this additive as a chemical of concern grows, so does Big Food’s use of this additive in U.S. processed foods–in everything from dairy products, to donuts, to non-dairy coffee creamers, to salad dressings–and often unlabeled. And food is not the only place this nanoparticle is making an appearance; we are also seeing increased use in cosmetics, personal care products, and Big Pharma medicines as well.
Titanium dioxide, one of the most-produced nanoparticles worldwide, is being used increasingly in foodstuffs. When intestinal cells absorb titanium dioxide particles, this leads to increased inflammation and damage to the intestinal mucosa in mice with colitis. Researchers at the University of Zurich recommend that patients with colitis should avoid food containing titanium dioxide particles.
The frequency of inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis has been on the rise in many Western countries for decades. The illnesses are caused by an excessive autoimmune reaction against the intestinal flora. In addition to genetic factors, environmental factors like the Western lifestyle, especially nutrition, play an essential role in the development of these chronic intestinal diseases.
Use of titanium dioxide nanoparticles in food is increasing
The research of Gerhard Rogler, professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Zurich, now shows that titanium dioxide nanoparticles can intensify the inflammatory reaction in the bodies of patients with inflammatory intestinal diseases. Titanium dioxide is a white pigment used in medicines, cosmetics and toothpaste and increasingly as food additive E171, for example, in icing, chewing gum or marshmallows. Until now, there have been no restrictions on its use in the food industry.
The scientists led by Gerhard Rogler concentrated their research on a protein complex inside cells: the NLRP3 inflammasome. This protein complex is part of the non-specific immune system, which detects danger signals and then triggers inflammation. If the inflammasome is activated by bacterial components, for example, and the inflammatory reaction plays a vital role in the defense against infective agents. In the same way, NLRP3 can be activated by small inorganic particles — sometimes with negative consequences: If uric acid crystals form in the cells, for example the inflammation leads to gout.
Titanium dioxide can be absorbed from food in case of intestinal disease
The research team first studied the effect of inorganic titanium dioxide particles in cell cultures. They were able to show that titanium dioxide can penetrate human intestinal epithelial cells and macrophages and accumulate there. The nanoparticles were detected as danger signals by inflammasomes, which triggered the production of inflammatory messengers. In addition, patients with ulcerative colitis, whose intestinal barrier is disrupted, have an increased concentration of titanium dioxide in their blood…
In a further step, the scientists orally administered titanium dioxide nanoparticles to mice, which serve as a disease model for inflammatory bowel disease. Here, as well, the particles activated the NLRP3 complex, which led to strong intestinal inflammation and greater damage to the intestinal mucosa in the mice. In addition, titanium dioxide crystals accumulated in the animals’ spleens. Whether these findings will be confirmed in humans must now be determined in further studies.
Researchers recommend abstinence from foods containing this additive in case of colitis
“Based on our results. Patients with an intestinal barrier dysfunction as found in colitis should abstain from foods containing titanium dioxide.”
-Dr. Gerhard Rogler, professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Zurich
Journal Reference: Pedro A Ruiz, Belen Morón, Helen M Becker, Silvia Lang, Kirstin Atrott, Marianne R Spalinger, Michael Scharl, Kacper A Wojtal, Anne Fischbeck-Terhalle, Isabelle Frey-Wagner, Martin Hausmann, Thomas Kraemer, Gerhard Rogler. Titanium dioxide nanoparticles exacerbate DSS-induced colitis: role of the NLRP3 inflammasome. Gut, 2017; 66 (7): 1216 DOI: 10.1136/gutjnl-2015-310297
This nanoparticle white pigment (officially classified as a food additive as opposed to a food dye) is present in processed foods common on grocery shelves, as well as in fast food and conventional restaurant foods. Frequently unlabeled in U.S. foods (though nanoparticles are required to be labeled in EU countries) this additive is used as a white pigment food coloring for processed foods such as skim milk, white cheese, yogurt, frosting/frosted foods, icing, candies, snack foods, mayonnaise, salad dressings, powdered sugar, marshmallows, pudding, breakfast toaster pastries, and non-diary coffee creamer, among many others. It is also commonly used in medicines and toothpaste.
Scientists are still determining the health safety and potential health hazards of nanoparticles in food. According to the professional organization American Society of Safety Engineers (the guide has since been removed from their website) ingested nanoparticles can be absorbed through small nodules in intestinal tissue (Peyer’s Plaques) that are part of the immune defense system. If nanoparticles enter the digestive system and proceed into the bloodstream, they can potentially move throughout the body and cause damage. Additionally, the Society concludes that “Nanoparticles may also accumulate in certain organs, disrupt and impair biological, structural and metabolic processes and weaken the immune system.” Animals studies have demonstrated that nanoparticle ingestion changes the structure of the lining of the intestinal walls. Among other potential problems, such structural changes hold the potential for over-absorption of harmful compounds. Additionally, research has indicated there are potential adverse health effects of nanoparticles on respiratory and cardiovascular systems, and studies of manufactured nanoparticles have demonstrated toxic properties. Among other health-related issues researchers are studying the potential link between Titanium Dioxide nanoparticles in food and an increased risk for inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and colitis. And finally, a recent study funded by the National Science Foundation and published by the American Chemical Society found that nanomaterials in food and drinks can interfere with digestive cells, changing the normal organization and decreasing the number of microvilli (finger-like projections on the cells that help us digest food). What this means essentially is that in humans, if such an effect occurs as food and drinks pass through the gastrointestinal tract, these nanomaterials could lead to poor digestion or diarrhea.