Common food additive could promote gut inflammation, colon cancer

Credit: NIH.

In a study from Georgia State University, scientists found that emulsifiers, which are added to most processed foods to aid texture and extend shelf life, can change gut bacteria and boost inflammation and colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide.

There is increasing awareness that the gut microbiota, the vast, diverse population of microorganisms that inhabits the human intestines, play a role in driving colorectal cancer.

The microbiota is also a key factor in driving Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, the two most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

IBD is known to promote colon tumorigenesis and gave rise to the term “colitis-associated cancer.”

Low-grade inflammation, a condition more prevalent than IBD, was shown to be associated with altered gut microbiota is found in many cases of colorectal cancer.

These recent findings suggest dietary emulsifiers might be partially responsible for this association.

In the study, the team hypothesized that emulsifiers might affect the gut microbiota in a way that promotes colorectal cancer. They designed experiments on mice to test this possibility.

The team fed mice with two very commonly used emulsifiers at doses to model the broad consumption of emulsifiers that are incorporated into the majority of processed foods.

They found that consuming emulsifiers drastically changed the species composition of the gut microbiota in a manner that made it more pro-inflammatory, boosting cancer induction and development.

This study showed that emulsifier-induced alterations in the microbiome were necessary and sufficient to drive alterations in intestinal epithelial cells’ homeostasis, which is thought to govern tumor development.

Overall, these findings support the view that changing the gut microbiome could cause low-grade gut inflammation and promote colon cancer.

The team is now testing which microbiota members are triggering this detrimental effect, as well as the mechanism of altered microbiota-induced cancer promotion.

If you care about gut health, please read studies about why some people are more likely to have bowel diseases and common food that could increase the risk of dangerous bowel diseases.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about a big cause of irritable bowel syndrome, and results showing this food may worsen inflammatory bowel diseases.

The study was published in the journal Cancer Research and conducted by Emilie Viennois et al.

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