Emulsifiers are common components of processed foods consumed as part of a Western diet. Emerging in vitro cell-line culture, mouse model and human intestinal tissue explant studies have all suggested that very low concentrations of the food emulsifier polysorbate 80 may cause bacterial translocation across the intestinal epithelium, intestinal inflammation and metabolic syndrome. This raises the possibility that dietary emulsifiers might be factors in conditions such as coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes and Crohn's disease. The potential mechanism behind the observed effects of this emulsifier is uncertain but may be mediated via changes in the gut microbiota or by increased bacterial translocation, or both. It is also unknown whether these effects are generalisable across all emulsifiers and detergents, including perhaps the natural emulsifier lecithin or even conjugated bile acids, particularly if the latter escape reabsorption and pass through to the distal ileum or colon. A major objective of the Medical Research Council (MRC)-funded Mechanistic Nutrition in Health (MECNUT) Emulsifier project is therefore to investigate the underlying mechanisms and effects of a range of synthetic and natural emulsifiers and detergents in vitro and in vivo, and to determine the effects of a commonly consumed emulsifier (soya lecithin) on gut and metabolic health through a controlled dietary intervention study in healthy human volunteers ? the FADiets study. This report provides an overview of the relevant literature, discussing the impact of emulsifiers and other additives on intestinal and metabolic health, and gives an overview of the studies being undertaken as part of the MECNUT Emulsifier project.
Additional members of the academic team including Dr Carrie Duckworth, Professor John Wilding, Professor Mark Pritchard and Professor Chris Probert (University of Liverpool, UK), Professor Harry Flint (Rowett Institute, UK), Dr Graham Horgan (Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland), Professor Johan Söderholm and Dr Åsa Keita (University Hospital Linköping, Sweden).
This study is funded by the Medical Research Council (MR/P023606/1).
- bacterial translocation
- food additives
- gut microbiota
- intestinal health and inflammation
- metabolic syndrome