A recent study has proven that additives found in food such as margarine, ice cream, and processed food products may be responsible for inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis as well as other illnesses tied with obesity and metabolic problems. The study focused on emulsifiers, which are chemicals used in processed food to improve food texture and to extend shelf life. They conducted the experiment using mice, feeding them emulsifiers diluted in food and water.
Scientists found that emulsifiers change the composition of gut bacteria in the mice. It is believed by the researchers that it’s this change that leads to not only inflammatory bowel diseases, but also causes overeating thereby increasing the risk for type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
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Georgia State University microbiologist Bernard Chassaing claims that the effects seen in mice can be observed in humans as well. Many of their colleagues have disputed the research claiming that the doses of emulsifiers used on the mice (polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose) exceeds the levels of the additive that an average human consumes.
The scientiists defended their research saying that while emulsifiers do not directly contribute to metabolic diseases like diabetes, it does directly cause overeating which is the leading cause of obesity-related illnesses. “We do not disagree with the commonly held assumption that overeating is a central cause of obesity and metabolic syndrome,” Georgia State immunologist Andrew Gewirtz said. “Rather, our findings reinforce the concept suggested by earlier work that low-grade inflammation resulting from an altered microbiota can be an underlying cause of excess eating.”
It seems that history is also on Chassaing’s side, as it is proven that incidents of inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic syndrome started rising in the mid-20th century, around the same time that the use of emulsifiers became common practice.
“We were thinking there was some non-genetic factor out there, some environmental factor, that would be explaining the increase in these chronic inflammatory diseases,” Gewirtz said. “And we thought that emulsifiers were a good candidate because they are so ubiquitous and their use has roughly paralleled the increase in these diseases. But I guess we were surprised at how strong the effects were.”
The researchers responsible for the study are now preparing to conduct tests on humans. It’s currently unknown if the experiment will yield similar results when conducted on humans. However, if it does, then it seems Chassaing and his associates may have finally found the underlying cause of obesity.