Processed foods have become a convenient solution to a busy modern lifestyle. Whilst we often think of processed foods as junk food, pretty much anything that comes out of a packet may be considered as processed. We can regularly consume these foods often deemed as ‘healthy’ forgetting that they may be full of artificial additives. Whilst many food additives may be harmless, there are some food additives that may upset the natural balance of gut bacteria and could lead to inflammatory gut related issues and increased gut permeability. This may in turn further exasperate inflammatory skin conditions.
It is important to highlight that the amount of additives eaten and the frequency of consumption of these foods will ultimately have the biggest impact on long term gut health and ultimately general health and wellness.
Additives to be wary of -
Maltodextrin is a polysaccharide, a type of carbohydrate. It is used as a thickener or filler to increase the volume of processed foods. Maltodextrin is a very common additive used in a plethora of foods such as packet mixes, powders, health supplements, ingestible beauty powders, breakfast cereals, yoghurts, powdered sugar free sweeteners, museli bars and commercially prepared foods.
Maltodextrin has been shown to change the composition of gut bacteria by suppressing the growth of beneficial bacteria. Research conducted at Lerner Research Institute in Ohio suggests that polysaccharides like maltodextrin have been linked to bacteria-associated intestinal disorders.
A study conducted at the Boston Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center also indicated that maltodextrin impairs cellular antibacterial responses and suppresses intestinal antimicrobial defence mechanisms, contributing to inflammatory bowel disease and gut disorders. Maltodextrin markedly enhanced LF82 specific biofilm formation. Biofilm formation of multiple other E. coli strains was also promoted by Maltodextrin. Maltodextrin has a high glycemic index (higher than table sugar) and may cause spikes in blood sugar.
Maltodextrin may promote dysbiosis of gut microbes and contribute to disease susceptibility.
Titanium dioxide E171 – food whitener
Titanium dioxide negatively interacts with bacteria in the gut, impairing the function of the beneficial bacteria which may have an impact in the development of some diseases. Health researchers claim dementia, auto-immune diseases, cancer metastasis, eczema, asthma and autism are among a growing list of diseases that have been linked to soaring exposure to these types of nanoparticles.
Lollies and chocolates with hard shells,white powdered doughnuts, food products with white icing and even some bread, mayonnaise, yogurt and dairy products may contain titanium dioxide.
One study found that titanium dioxide did not change the composition of gut microbiota, but instead altered bacteria activity and promoted growth in a form of an undesired biofilm. Biofilms are bacteria that stick together and have been reported in diseases such as colorectal cancer.
Thickeners and emulsifiers
Polysorbate 80 E433
Polysorbate 80 is an emulsifier. It emulsifies or stabilises food substances that would normally separate, giving them a creamy, homogeneous consistency.
In a 2017 study polysorbate 80 was found to decrease beneficial bacteria in the gut. This is thought to be due to pathogenic gut bacteria feeding on polysorbate 80, increasing inflammation and risk of weight gain in both humans and rodents. Polysorbate 80 is used in creams, coconut milk, salad dressings and sauces.
Polysorbate 80 is found in many skincare products however the effect on the microbiota of the skin is not yet known. It could be hypothosised that if polysorbate feeds pathogenic bacteria in the gut it could have the potential to feed pathogenic bacteria on the skin.
Carboxymethylcellusoseis another common emulsifier and thickening agent sometimes known as cellulose gum.
Unlike polysorbate 80, which affects the gut over time, carboxymethylcellulose is thought to cause an inflammatory gut response by influencing gene expression of the gut bacteria.
Carboxymethylcellusose causes gut bacteria to over produce flagellin, a protein that can cause gut inflammation. Carboxymethylcellulose is found in a multitude of foods and drinks such as cottage cheese, cream cheese, dressings, sauces, gelatinous foods.
Carrageenan gum or Vegetable gum E407
Carrageenan is an additive used to thicken, emulsify, and preserve foods and drinks. It’s a natural ingredient also sometimes referred to as Irish moss. It is commonly used in plant milks, desserts, liquids and yogurts.
There has been much controversy surrounding the health effects of carrageenan. There are suggestions that carrageenan triggers inflammation, and that it may contribute to damage to the intestinal cells of the digestive system aggravating symptoms of increased gut permeability and IBS. Studies thus far have concluded that there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions about the exact health effects of carrageenan.
According to scientists from universities in Israel and Singapore, there are six common artificial sweeteners which have all been found to be toxic to beneficial gut bacteria. Artificial sweeteners may decrease beneficial gut bacteria, which can cause a rise and in balance in pathogenic bacteria which may lead to inflammation and associated related diseases and autoimmune conditions.
Choosing minimally processed foods and avoiding the additives listed where possible may be beneficial for those suffering with inflammatory gut related disorders, autoimmune conditions and inflammatory skin conditions.