Research shows that a commonly used food additive called carboxymethylcellulose alters the intestinal environment of healthy people, disturbing beneficial bacteria and nutrient levels. These results suggest the need for more research on the long-term effects of this food additive on health.
Carboxymethylcellulose is a synthetic member of a commonly used food additive, called an emulsifier, that is incorporated into many processed foods to increase shelf life and improve texture. Carboxymethylcellulose has not been thoroughly tested in humans but has been used increasingly in processed foods for some time.
It has always been assumed that carboxymethylcellulose is safe to eat because it is not absorbed and excreted in the feces. However, the growing understanding of the health benefits that bacteria normally live in the colon and possibly interact with unabsorbed additives has led researchers to test this theory. .
Experiments in mice have determined that carboxymethylcellulose, as well as several other emulsifiers, alter gut bacteria to induce more severe disease in many chronic inflammatory disorders, such as colon cancer, metabolic syndrome and colitis. However, the extent to which results like these are relevant to people has not been considered before.
Researchers performed a randomized controlled study in healthy individuals who ate either an additive-free diet or a similar diet supplemented with carboxymethylcellulose.
Because rat-promoted carboxymethylcellulose diseases take many years to manifest in humans, research has focused on intestinal and bacterial metabolites. It was found that the consumption of carboxymethylcellulose changed the structure of bacteria residing in the colon and reduced the number of selected species. In addition, stool samples from people treated with carboxymethylcellulose showed severe depletion of beneficial metabolites considered to maintain a typical healthy colon.
Colonoscopy was then performed on the participants at the start and end of the 2-week study, and a group of participants consuming carboxymethylcellulose showed intestinal bacteria infiltrating the mucus, which is a features of type 2 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.
So, although the consumption of carboxymethylcellulose did not directly lead to any of the diseases in this study, the results support the results of animal studies that long-term consumption of this additive may promote promote chronic inflammatory disease.
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