New research published in the journal Cancer Research now suggests a very common food additive might play a role in the development of colorectal cancer. According to Medical News Today, what inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, have in common with colorectal cancer have in common is an alteration in the gut microbiota. Dr. Emilie Viennois, assistant professor at the Georgia State University Institute for Biomedical Sciences, Atlanta, believes there might be a connection between a common food additive that alters intestinal microbiota and colorectal cancer.
There are over 100 trillion microorganisms living in the gut, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The microbiota is made of the physiological interaction between the host’s microorganisms and the ones introduced from the environment.
Acquired during the first stages of life, having a diverse and balanced microbiota is crucial in keeping a healthy immune system. However, severe changes in the microbiota, either as a result of changing one’s diet, lifestyle, or because of an infection, can alter the symbiotic relationship between the host microorganisms and the environmental ones, leading to IBD.
IBD promotes the formation of tumours in the colon. Low-grade inflammation, which has been associated with changes in the microbiota and metabolic disease, has also been observed in many cases of colorectal cancer.
If previously, dietary emulsifiers were only be hypothesised as a reason for IBD, now, new research by the team at Georgia State University research labs showed that low concentrations of two common emulsifiers – carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80 – induced low-grade inflammation and obesity/metabolic syndrome in mice. Always check the ingredients list for these emulsifiers to be safe.
Although normally the intestine is protected, keeping harmful bacteria away from the epithelial cells that line the intestine, emulsifiers seem to help transport bacteria across epithelial cells.
Emulsifiers are detergent-like molecules added to modern processed food, and they are used to help water and oil mix, giving processed food a smooth texture. Researchers found that an intake of emulsifiers severely alters the composition of the gut microbiota, and it does so in a way that promotes inflammation and creates an environment favourable for the development of cancer.