Can something that’s thought to be relatively harmless become hazardous to your health when it’s made smaller? And I mean a whole lot smaller!
I’m talking about how the compound titanium dioxide, a common food and cosmetic additive, is turned into what’s called a nanoparticle, around 1/500 the width of a human hair!
Nanoparticles of titanium dioxide are used in lots of processed foods — most often in things like gum, candies, cookies, powdered sugar, and cake icings. These itsy-bitsy particles are also added to cosmetics — especially some
toothpastes and sunscreens.
But, as scientists are starting to realize, when it comes to the safety of additives like titanium dioxide, size really does matter.
When food scientists discovered that they could add submicroscopic particles of this substance to foods to make them whiter, preserve them better and enhance their flavor, they leaped into action.
The only problem is they didn’t bother looking beforehand.
Because along with how amazing it is that science can even concoct such tiny particles, there’s a very big problem: We don’t really know how they may be affecting our health. And by that I mean especially the health of our kids and
grandkids, who typically get bigger doses of these minuscule additives.
When a compound is super-shrunk to a nanoparticle, it allows it to move into the blood and lymph system. Where all those nanoparticles go from there is anyone’s guess. Experts believe it’s likely they can also move into the spleen,
liver, heart… and even the brain.
And that makes perfect sense, because nanoparticles are now the hottest topic in medicine when it comes to finding ways to deliver drugs to targeted areas of the body, and especially the brain.
The latest warning about their use in food was just released by researchers at Binghamton University.
What their study found, after exposing intestinal cell cultures in the laboratory to amounts of titanium dioxide nanoparticles you might get in a typical meal, is that these things can really mess with your gut.
Exposures equivalent to what you might get over five days can weaken your protective intestinal barrier, slow down your metabolism and make nutrients like iron, zinc, and fatty acids more difficult to absorb. They also caused
inflammation and “negatively affected” enzyme functions.
But that’s just the latest in a string of bad reports that have come out over the years about these teeny weeny food additives.
- Eight years ago, a laboratory study in mice found that titanium dioxide nanoparticles were able to penetrate cells and damage DNA.
- Two years ago, a study of their effects on the brains of laboratory animals found that nanoparticles could produce changes in the brain that gave “compelling evidence” of potential “neurological dysfunction.”
- And just last month, a French study published in the journal Nature found nano-sized titanium dioxide particles in the livers of rats exposed to it in drinking water. The researchers also noted that titanium dioxide”particles of dietary origin” have been found in the walls of the small intestines of patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, including infants.
While you would think the FDA would be actively investigating where these nano-sized particles are being used, big surprise — it’s not! In fact, it appears that the only thing the FDA has done so far is to issue a “draft
guidance” for the cosmetics industry that says if your company plans to use a nanoparticle in a cosmetic the FDA “encourages you” to discuss it with them.
So here’s the thing: In order to avoid them, you’ll have to do some sleuthing and look for the presence of titanium dioxide on the label of a food or cosmetic.
That could mean it contains a nanoparticle… or not. Unless a product is labeled (as cosmetics are in the European Union with a “nano” warning), there’s no way to know for sure.
But what we do know about these incredibly small additives so far tells us that avoiding them whenever possible may turn out to be a very big deal.
“Chronic exposure to common food additive alters nutrient absorption in small intestine” Binghamton University, February 17, 2017, News Medical Life Sciences, news-medical.net