Chemically-treated fiber in processed foods linked to liver cancer: study

Scientists discovered an unexpected consequence during their study of what happens when industrialized fiber that has been chemically-treated is added to highly processed foods: it triggered liver cancer in the test subjects. 

Adding chemically-treated ‘refined’ fiber to highly processed foods is something a recent FDA rule change has effectively encouraged processed food manufacturers to do.  The scientists argue that marketing of this chemically-treated refined fiber-fortified processed food as “health-promoting” is ill-conceived and should be reconsidered. 

More studies on this chemically-treated fiber injected into processed foods are needed. In the meantime, it might be wise to remember that while eating whole foods that are naturally rich in fiber has been shown to have health benefits, eating processed foods containing industrialized (chemically-treated) fiber may be anything but healthy.


Adding refined fiber to processed food could have negative health effects, study finds

Adding highly refined fiber to processed foods could have negative effects on human health, such as promoting liver cancer, according to a new study by researchers at Georgia State University and the University of Toledo.

Study overview

The researchers set out to test the idea that a diet enriched with refined inulin might help combat obesity-associated complications in mice. While such an inulin-containing diet did stave off obesity, some of the mice started to develop jaundice. After six months, many of these mice developed liver cancer.

Study conclusions

Which mice were susceptible to developing liver cancer?  Scientists conclude that those test subjects susceptible to gut problems (similar to the type of imbalance found in some obese people) were the ones to develop the liver cancer after eating the industrialized fiber.  The final analysis: fortifying processed foods with fiber may not be safe for certain individuals with gut bacterial dysbiosis, in whom consumption of such fiber may lead to liver cancer.

Although this study was performed in mice, it has potential implications for human health, particularly cautioning against enriching processed foods with highly refined, chemically-treated fermentable fiber.



Journal Reference: Vishal Singh, Beng San Yeoh, Benoit Chassaing, Xia Xiao, Piu Saha, Rodrigo Aguilera Olvera, John D. Lapek, Limin Zhang, Wei-Bei Wang, Sijie Hao, Michael D. Flythe, David J. Gonzalez, Patrice D. Cani, Jose R. Conejo-Garcia, Na Xiong, Mary J. Kennett, Bina Joe, Andrew D. Patterson, Andrew T. Gewirtz, Matam Vijay-Kumar. Dysregulated Microbial Fermentation of Soluble Fiber Induces Cholestatic Liver Cancer. Cell, 2018; 175 (3): 679

Overview / Study: DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.09.004