Emulsifiers found to potentially increase cancer risk, according to study

A recent study conducted by a team of French researchers has unveiled a potential link between the consumption of emulsifiers, commonly used additives in processed foods, and an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer.
The research, published in PLos Medicine, involved scientists from esteemed institutions including Inserm, INRAE, Sorbonne University Paris Nord, Paris Cité University, and Cnam.    

Emulsifiers are used as food additives in a wide range of packaged products to enhance texture, improve consistency, and prolong shelf life. Emulsifiers can be found in various products such as snacks, ready meals, ice creams, fresh pasta, and spreadable cheeses.    

Previous in vitro and animal studies, along with clinical investigations involving human subjects, have already indicated that emulsifier consumption can lead to alteration of the microbiota, thinning of intestinal mucus, exacerbation of intestinal inflammation, and an increased likelihood of cancer development.    

To shed further light on the potential relationship between emulsifier intake and cancer, the French researchers embarked on a large-scale study involving the general population. They analyzed data from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort study, which involved 92 000 adults with an average age of 45 years (79% women). This comprehensive research project, focusing on the correlation between nutrition, health, and lifestyle factors, has already yielded over 270 international scientific publications since its initiation in 2009.    

Through the cross-analysis of dietary and health data, collected over an average follow-up period of 7 years, the researchers uncovered some significant findings. They observed that a higher consumption of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids (E471), a common emulsifier, was associated with an overall 15% increased risk of cancer. Moreover, the risks were even more pronounced in specific cancer types, with breast cancer risk rising by 24% and prostate cancer risk by 46%.
Additionally, the study revealed that a higher intake of carrageenan (E407 and E407a), another emulsifier, was linked to a 32% increased risk of breast cancer compared to those with lower consumption levels.    

It is important to note that a medical committee thoroughly examined the medical records of the 2 604 diagnosed tumor cases. The researchers also accounted for other known cancer risk factors, including age, sex, body mass index (BMI), education level, family history, smoking, alcohol and physical activity levels, overall nutritional quality of the diet, and menopausal status.    

While the findings of this observational study provide valuable insights, the authors emphasize the need for replication in further studies conducted worldwide. If future research supports these findings, it could prompt a reevaluation of regulations pertaining to the use of additives in the food industry, aimed at better safeguarding consumer health, declared the authors.    

The mounting scientific evidence regarding the potential adverse effects of emulsifiers parallels previous cases, such as that of titanium dioxide (E171), which was belatedly classified as hazardous by EFSA after being overlooked for years. The study's authors caution against regulatory inaction and call for proactive measures to address the potential health risks associated with emulsifier consumption.        



Plos Medicine