New Study Suggests How Food Additives Might Mess With Your Insides

February 27th 2015

Alicia Lutes

So much of the processed food that we buy and consume in America has been made possible by things called emulsifiers. But as can so often be the case when it comes to things untested on a long-term scale, new scientific data suggests they may be causing a bit of a ruckus when it comes to your gut bacteria.

According to National Geographic, a recent scientific investigation conducted by Andrew Gewirtz at the Georgia State University found that two of the most common emulsifiers — caboxymethylcellulose (CMC) and polysorbate-80 (P80) — have changed the make-up of bacteria in mice guts. Unsure if your food has emulsifiers in it? Well it's pretty much "anything that sits in a package," according to Gerwitz, so you'd be well within your right to feel concerned on the matter.

For those not in the know, there's a heck of a lot of bacteria in your gut — good bacteria that helps break food down and make sure you're healthy. And, as Scientific American states, there's evidence that indicates "gut bacteria alter[s] the way we store fat, how we balance levels of glucose in the blood, and how we respond to hormones that make us feel hungry or full." So, naturally, a change-up in the guest list in your lower intestines can have some negative side effects, including obesity and diabetes. To give you a bit of flowery, visual context, several scientists have equated the bacteria making a home inside us is a veritable internal rainforest, working behind the scenes from mouth to gut to genitals, in order to calibrate our bodies for optimal performance. 

So, naturally, it should be a bit troubling to learn that Gerwitz's team found that these additives made mouse guts "more porous, allowing microbes to slip through its walls and reach the immune cells and blood vessels on the other side."

Guess what the results were? Severe inflammation, weight gain, and an increase in blood sugar. All things, interestingly enough, that have seen a seemingly correlated rise in humans since the wider introduction of these additives to food after World War II. As a result, the mice developed severe inflammation. They also put on weight, and their blood sugar went up. Conversely, the rats that were raised in sterile, germ-free, non-additive-having conditions, none of these changes were found.