Synthetic emulsifiers do more than keep the plethora of ingredients in processed foods (like soda and salad dressing) from separating. They’re also responsible for extending food’s shelf life. Which is ironic because the ingredient may have the opposite effects on those that consume them.
According to a new rodent study led by Georgia State University researchers, two commonly used emulsifiers, polysorbate 80 (P80) and carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), create the ideal gut conditions for colon cancer cells to flourish. To come to this finding, researchers added emulsifiers to water and fed it to mice for a period of three months. The researchers then examined the rodents’ gut bacteria and found that it was altered significantly enough to enable tumor growth. To make matters worse, these changes also promoted metabolic syndrome, which is a risk factor for numerous chronic diseases, including inflammation. Why’s that troublesome? Inflammation may trigger inflammatory bowel disease, which in some cases can trigger tumors to grow.
Since more research is needed to determine if these emulsifiers can affect humans as they do mice, the study’s lead researcher, Emilie Viennois, plans to continue her research in hopes of discovering how emulsifiers (P80, CMC and others) affect humans. She also hopes to learn if probiotics can help deter these effects. Until science advances, she suggests using fewer processed food products and cooking more often. And if you need to use some processed foods, make sure to combine them with homemade foods to lessen the exposure to emulsifiers in one meal, Viennois advises. And if you're tempted to make the switch to a diet free of processed fare, check out these 21 Things That Happen To Your Body When You Stop Eating Processed Foods.