This food additive may increase type 2 diabetes risk

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In a new study conducted by French researchers, a significant relationship has been identified between the consumption of common food emulsifiers and the increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

This study, which appears in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, highlights the potential health risks associated with ultra-processed foods that form a major part of dietary intake in Europe and North America, where 30 to 60% of adults’ energy intake comes from such foods.

Emulsifiers are additives frequently found in a wide array of processed foods including cakes, biscuits, desserts, yogurts, ice creams, chocolate bars, and many ready-to-eat meals.

They enhance the texture, taste, and shelf life of these products. Some commonly used emulsifiers include mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, carrageenans, and lecithins, among others.

Although these substances have been approved based on past safety evaluations, recent studies suggest they may disrupt the gut’s bacterial balance, potentially leading to inflammation, insulin resistance, and ultimately diabetes.

The French research team investigated this issue by analyzing data from the NutriNet-Santé study, which tracked the health and dietary habits of 104,139 adults over a period of up to 14 years, with participants logging detailed dietary records every six months.

This comprehensive data allowed the researchers to measure chronic exposure to emulsifiers and assess its impact on health outcomes, specifically the development of type 2 diabetes.

During the study period, 1,056 participants developed diabetes. The research revealed that certain emulsifiers were associated with a higher risk of developing the disease.

For instance, carrageenans were linked to a 3% increase in risk per 100 mg consumed per day, while the risk associated with tripotassium phosphate was much higher at 15% per 500 mg per day. Other emulsifiers like guar gum and xanthan gum also showed significant risk increases.

This study is pioneering in its scope and detail but is not without limitations. Most notably, the cohort was predominantly female and generally healthier and more educated than the broader French population, which could influence the results.

Despite these potential biases, the findings were robust across multiple sensitivity tests, underscoring the potential link between emulsifier intake and diabetes risk.

The researchers caution that while their findings are compelling, they represent initial observations from an observational study.

To establish a definitive causal relationship, further studies across different populations and additional experimental research are necessary. This research is crucial as it opens the door to revisiting regulatory standards on food additives to better protect consumer health.

Looking ahead, the research team plans to delve deeper into the biological mechanisms at play. They aim to study variations in blood markers and changes in the gut microbiota related to emulsifier consumption.

Additionally, they will explore the potential cumulative effects of various food additives and their interactions, which could lead to new insights into how these substances impact human health collectively.

The implications of this research are significant, suggesting that the widespread use of emulsifiers in the food industry might need to be re-evaluated to address potential health risks effectively.

As this body of evidence grows, it could lead to changes in how food additives are regulated and used in the production of everyday food items.

The research findings can be found in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

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