Emulsifiers Impacting Gut Microbiome and Our Health

The Gut Microbiome

Admittedly, one of my favorite aspects of the human body for the fascinating role it plays in nutrition.  The gut microbiome is the community of microbes, or bacteria, that live in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract.  It is a symbiotic relationship with the host body as we provide the home for these bacteria and in turn they help contribute to a large portion of our immune system (some studies cite as much as 70% of the immune system is impacted by the gut flora).

In recent years we have begun to link the gut microbiome to various pro-inflammatory conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.  I feel that we haven't even gotten to the tip of the iceberg in trying to understand the role that the gut plays in chronic disease development.  Now scientists are starting to take a closer look at that relationship.

Emulsifiers and the Gut

Scientists at Georgia State University used the starting point that, "agents that disrupt mucous-bacterial interactions might have the potential to promote diseases associated with gut inflammation" and decided to take a hard look at some of the most commonly used emulsifiers in the food supply.  An emulsifier is an agent that improves the texture of food and often adds to the shelf life (for example, it's the reason those particles are perfectly suspended in salad dressings on the shelves but your home-made one separates).

In a study that was published in Nature, these scientists found that two commonly used emulsifiers in particular were associated with low-grade inflmmation, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and colitis in mice.  This may help provide an additional correlative link between chemicals in the food supply and irritable bowel diseases which have been on the rise since the 1950s.

Take Home Message: More real, authentic, sourced food and less processed foods!  A message I think most RDNs already push for with clientele, now we just have an extra reference up our sleeve to try to convince one of such!