Although we tend to think of bacteria negatively when talking about human health, they play an important role in maintaining our well-being. There are approximately 500 different species of bacteria housed in our digestive system which help us break down the food we eat for energy, and prevent harmful organisms from taking residence in our gut . In return for their favours, we provide the bacteria with a steady supply of nutrients and offer protection from the environment . But this mutual relationship can easily be disrupted by certain chemicals in our food and turn these bacteria into hostile inhabitants.
A study by Gerwitz group has identified food additives or emulsifiers as one such group of chemicals . Emulsifiers are chemicals added to food to mix otherwise insoluble ingredients , like water and oil. They are used in nearly all food products including bread, ice cream, processed meat, cheese and chocolate .
In an experiment with mice, this study found that consuming emulsifiers reduced the thickness of mucosal lining (a protective layer of mucus that lines the intestines) . In a healthy gut, this layer ensures the bacteria maintain a safe distance from the cells of the intestine . If the bacteria get too close the cells, the body mounts an immune response to kill the bacteria . This is exactly what happened when the emulsifiers damaged the layer of mucus in mice . The scientists demonstrated that over time this exposure can trigger the onset of bowel diseases like colitis , an inflammation of the colon typically characterized by abdominal pain, cramping and diarrhea.
Besides irritated bowels, the chemical additives were also shown to have other negative effects on the health. Researchers believe that emulsifiers interfere with feeling of satiety which is why the mice consumed more food and quickly gained a lot of weight . The mice were also unable to control their blood sugar effectively after eating . As a result, such an eating pattern leaves the mice at an increased risk of obesity and diabetes .
The Gerwitz study highlights the health risks associated with consumption of food emulsifiers. They can not only damage our mucosal lining but also trigger the onset of chronic bowel diseases and obesity . Their conclusions spark us to re-evaluate the concentration of emulsifiers deemed safe for consumption and identify safer alternatives to such chemicals.
Cover Image: Don Morris
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