Can Dietary Emulsifiers Promote Obesity?

2013 Super Chefs Nat'l Obesity Summit 0001Emulsifiers are amongst the most commonly used food additives to improve the texture and palatability of foods ranging from margarine and mayonnaise to ice cream and baked goods.

Now a study by Benoit Chassaing and colleagues published in NATURE, suggests that dietary emulsifiers may promote weight gain and the metabolic syndrome by altering the composition of intestinal microbes.

The researchers hypothesized that emulsifiers may increase bacterial translocation across intestinal mucosa, thereby promoting local and systemic inflammation as well as affecting the composition of gut bacteria.

Their study in mice show that relatively low concentrations of two commonly used emulsifiers (carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80) can induce low-grade systemic inflammation, weight gain and features of the metabolic syndrome, as well as promote intestinal inflammation in mice susceptible to inflammatory bowel disease.

Importantly, they used germ-free mice and faecal transplants to show that these changes can be induced simply by transferring the gut microbes from emulsifier-treated animals to controls.

As the authors note,

“These results support the emerging concept that perturbed host-microbiota interactions resulting in low-grade inflammation can promote adiposity and its associated metabolic effects. Moreover, they suggest that the broad use of emulsifying agents might be contributing to an increased societal incidence of obesity/metabolic syndrome and other chronic inflammatory diseases.”

While these findings (if replicated in humans) certainly point to the industrial use of food emulsifiers as a potential cause of the global increase in obesity and inflammatory bowel disease, given that these compounds are present in virtually all processed foods, they may well be difficult to avoid.

Guess it’s back to home cooking with raw ingredients.

Edmonton, AB