Colon, Gut Microbiota Problems Linked with Common Food Additive

This food additive has been on our hit list for years now.  It has been banned in France, but in the U.S. and several other countries it has widespread use.  Sadly, because the mainstream media in the U.S. is funded by Big Food and Big Pharma companies that use and profit from this additive, for the most part they look the other way and never investigate or report on it to consumers.

So here we go again.  The commonly used food additive titanium dioxide–a nanoparticle (E171)–has once again been linked with serious health outcomes in yet another scientific study.   Like the studies before it, the current study found that the food additive titanium dioxide holds the potential to do some real harm to the colon and gut microbiota*, and to disrupt liver functioning.

“The study confirmed a strong linkage between foodborne titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO2 NPs) and adverse health effects.”

Dr. Hang Xiao, research scientist, professor and Clydesdale Scholar of Food Science


*Gut microbiota, which refers to the diverse and complex community of microorganisms in the gut, plays a vital role in human health. An imbalance of gut microbiota has been associated with a range of health issues, including inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

This is some pretty serious stuff and consumers wishing to avoid any such problems for themselves or their family members (because of the types of processed food they eat, children have been found to have exposures of 2x to 4x greater than adults) should carefully read the ingredients labels on all processed foods before tossing it into their grocery cart.  Unfortunately, thanks to FDA rules that favor Big Food and Big Chemical over consumer health and well-being, titanium dioxide does not always have to be listed, so think “white”…

Food Hacker BOOKCOVER-CFL The following excerpt is from our book, “The Food Hacker’s Handbook:  A Guide to Breaking the Processed Foods and Additives Addiction”


titanium dioxide triggers IBD, colon rectal cancer

Food Dye’s Tiny Cousin:  Titanium Dioxide

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 (the food chemical makes processed foods appear whiter and more opaque) 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.

Study Overview

Researchers fed either titanium dioxide (E171 or TiO2 NPs) to two populations of mice as part of their daily diet. One population was fed a high-fat diet similar to that of many Americans, two-thirds of whom are obese or overweight; the other group of mice was fed a low-fat diet. The mice fed a high-fat diet eventually became obese, while the mice on the low-fat diet did not.

“In both the non-obese mice and obese mice, the gut microbiota was disturbed by titanium dioxide (E171 and TiO2 NPs).  The nanosized particles caused more negative changes in both groups of mice.”

Moreover, the obese mice were more susceptible to the adverse effects of titanium dioxide (TiO2 NPs), causing more damage in obese mice than in non-obese ones.

The researchers found titanium dioxide (TiO2 NPs) decreased cecal levels of short-chain fatty acids, which are essential for colon health, and increased pro-inflammatory immune cells and cytokines in the colon, indicating an inflammatory state.

To evaluate the direct health impact of gut microbiota disrupted by titanium dioxide (TiO2 NP), the scientists conducted a fecal transplant study. They gave mice antibiotics to clear out their original gut microbiota and then transplanted fecal bacteria from the titanium dioxide-treated mice to the antibiotic-treated mice.

“The results support our hypothesis that including titanium dioxide (TiO2 NPs) in the diet disrupts the homeostasis of the gut microbiota, which in turn leads to colonic inflammation in the mice.”



Journal Reference: Xiaoqiong Cao, Yanhui Han, Min Gu, Hengjun Du, Mingyue Song, Xiaoai Zhu, Gaoxing Ma, Che Pan, Weicang Wang, Ermin Zhao, Timothy Goulette, Biao Yuan, Guodong Zhang, Hang Xiao. Foodborne Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles Induce Stronger Adverse Effects in Obese Mice than Non‐Obese Mice: Gut Microbiota Dysbiosis, Colonic Inflammation, and Proteome Alterations. Small, 2020; 2001858 DOI: 10.1002/smll.202001858