The ingredient sunscreen and cheese have in common

You might be most familiar with titanium dioxide as an ingredient listed in your sunscreen. It’s used in other products as well to boost their whiteness or opacity, including plastics and cosmetics.

But you may not know that it’s a food additive as well. A “food grade” version is found in everything from chewing gum to cheese to chocolate to condiments. And unfortunately, this ingredient is in so many everyday foods could have a serious impact on your health…

Research shows that it can cause genetic damage in mice, decrease the ability of intestinal cells to absorb nutrients, decrease the immune system’s ability to fight pathogens and increase inflammation. It’s even been linked to type 2 diabetes.

Yet, somehow, it’s still in our food. Granted, a lot of the research on this food additive so far has been conducted on mice, but that doesn’t mean we should shrug it off.  Especially since yet another study has found that this popular food additive is fueling poor health and chronic disease…

Titanium dioxide: Bad for gut bacteria and colon health

You’ve heard time and time again that good gut health is the foundation of good overall health. The bacteria in your gut influence your risk of pretty much every major disease, including type 2 diabetes, autoimmune conditions, cancer and more. So, anything that’s bad for your gut is bad for your disease risk… and based on new research from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, titanium dioxide isn’t doing your gut any favors.

In their study, researchers fed mice two different versions of titanium dioxide: titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO2 NPs) and E171.

E171 is the type of titanium dioxide that’s added to food products and contains different sized titanium dioxide particles. About one-third of the particles in E171 are nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are thought to be the most problematic type of titanium dioxide because they’re absorbed in the body easier than bigger particles, and they tend to accumulate in bodily tissues.

Previous research has shown it can collect in the organs, primarily the liver, spleen and kidney, so this current research is not all that surprising…

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In this study, researchers found that both E171 and TiO2 NPs disrupted the gut bacteria of mice. The nanoparticles caused more negative changes. But that’s to be expected since we already know that nanoparticles are more harmful.

TiO2 NPs decreased short-chain fatty acids levels, too. Short-chain fatty acids are essential for colon health, so less of them could trigger gastrointestinal disease down the line. These nanoparticles also increased pro-inflammatory immune cells and cytokines in the colon, which doesn’t bode well for gastrointestinal health. In fact, these changes could ultimately trigger inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Researchers found that obese mice were more negatively impacted by nanoparticles than non-obese mice, which means titanium dioxide may create bigger health burdens for some people than others. But all in all, the message from this study was clear — it isn’t good for the gut.

Protect yourself from titanium dioxide

Titanium dioxide is already banned in France. But as you probably know, the FDA tends to take a slower approach to protecting us from potentially dangerous additives in our food than its European counterparts. That means, it’s up to you to pay attention to what you’re putting into your body and avoid titanium dioxide whenever you can.

Titanium dioxide is found in a wide variety of foods… although, the most common culprits are chewing gum, candies, pastries, chocolates, coffee creamers and cake decorations. If you want to avoid titanium dioxide, it’s best to read all labels. It’s usually listed as E171.

Titanium dioxide is also a common ingredient in cosmetics, and it can be absorbed through the skin. So, keep your eyes peeled for it in your beauty products. And don’t forget to check personal care products, like toothpaste, because it’s often in those too. In fact, you might as well read every label of everything you buy, because the truth is, you never know what they’re sneaking into the stuff you buy nowadays.

Sources:

  1. Common Food Additive Causes Adverse Health Effects in Mice — University of Massachusetts Amherst.
  2. Titanium Dioxide in Food — Should You Be Concerned? — Healthline.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.