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Additives that keep foods fresh may sour in the gut

These compounds can disrupt intestinal bacteria, cause inflammation, mouse study suggests

By
1:00pm, February 25, 2015
ice cream bar

GUT REACTION  Ice cream and other foods depend on additives called emulsifiers to stay fresh. The compounds cause inflammation in mice, new research finds, suggesting that emulsifiers may also play a role in certain human illnesses.

Food additives may keep snacks fresh and tasty looking, but they can wreak havoc on the gut. These additives disrupt the intestine’s protection from bacteria and boost inflammation in mice, scientists report online February 25 in Nature.

The new research “underscores the fact that a lot of things we eat … may not be as safe as we think they are,” says Eugene Chang, a gastroenterologist at the University of Chicago.

Additives called emulsifiers help many foods, including ice cream, salad dressing, pasta sauce, bread and cookies, stay fresh on supermarket shelves. To see whether the additives play a role in inflammatory conditions, researchers fed emulsifiers to mice for 12 weeks.

The mice put on weight and made proteins that signal inflammation. More inflammation-causing microbes also showed up in the bacterial communities in the mice’s guts.

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