Food additive emulsifiers & risk of cardiovascular disease in the NutriNet-Santé study
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Another example of our open food database at the service of science.
The following study by French researchers from the NutriNet-Santé cohort of the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team (EREN) found positive associations between the risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease) and the consumption of five individual emulsifiers and two groups of food additives widely used in industrial foods.
It appeared in the 🔗 British Medical Journal in September 2023.
The study was carried out on participants: 95 442 adults (>18 years) without prevalent CVD who completed at least three 24 hour dietary records during the first two years of follow-up.
Here’s the introduction of the study:
“In Europe and North America, 30-60% of dietary energy intake in adults is provided by ultra-processed foods—highly processed products often formulated using cosmetic food additives and ingredients of rare culinary use, which have resulted in considerable research interest in the past few years.123
Recent epidemiological studies have linked high intakes of ultra-processed foods with higher risks of obesity and mortality and non-communicable diseases, such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases (CVD), and type 2 diabetes.4
One major hypothesis proposed to explain these associations is the potential deleterious properties of some food additives, which are used ubiquitously in ultra-processed foods.
In particular, emulsifiers are among the most commonly used additives in industrial foods owing to their emulsifying and thickening properties that improve texture and lengthen shelf-life.6
Although no worldwide estimate of emulsifier use in the food industry exists, a recent descriptive study of the NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort study revealed that seven of the 10 most consumed food additives among French adults were classified as emulsifiers (total modified starches, lecithins, xanthan gum, pectins, monoglycerides and diglycerides of fatty acids, carrageenan, and guar gum), and modified starches were consumed by more than 90% of the participants.7
Additionally, more than 53.8% of food or beverage industrial products contain at least one food emulsifier 5 as estimated from Open Food Facts, 8 a database that contains information and data on food products from around the world.
Despite their evaluation of safety and acceptable daily intakes provided by the European Food Safety Authority, recent experimental studies suggested potential deleterious effects of food additive emulsifiers on the gut microbiota and gut inflammation. 9101112131415 In particular, a recent randomised controlled trial in healthy individuals found that compared with an equivalent additive-free diet, short term intake of 15 g/day (supraphysiological doses) of carboxymethylcellulose (European code E466) increased postprandial abdominal discomfort and rapidly altered the composition and localisation of intestinal microbiota as well as the production of intestinal metabolites,16 the last of these having shown associations with CVD.17
The large epidemiological NutriNet-Santé cohort study collected detailed information on specific commercial brands of industrial food consumed, and performed an estimation of quantitative exposures to food additives individually (including emulsifiers) among more than 100 000 French adults.7
This work provides the basis for aetiological studies, which are crucially needed to generate hypotheses on the role of food additives on long term health outcomes. The present study assessed the association between intakes of food additive emulsifiers (total and specific substances) and CVD risk among French adults from the NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort study.