A wide range of foods contain ingredients that we call emulsifiers. A new study has shown that these compounds can produce both physiological and behavioural changes.
Bread and many other common foods we eat daily contain emulsifiers and other additives.
Food additives have always generated a great deal of attention as they can lead to exacerbating many health conditions, or even be the cause of some health issues as well. Recently, emulsifiers have been drawing fire and rightfully so.
Manufacturers have been using these chemicals to alter food’s texture and extend its shelf life for years and they are not good for our health. These emulsifiers are found in many foods such as bread, chocolate, margarine, processed meats, and more.
Earlier studies have shown that emulsifiers can alter the microbiome of mice, causing low-grade inflammation and increasing the risk of obesity and metabolic disorders. But now a study in humans concluded that gut bacteria “can be directly impacted by these commonly used food additives, and these additives also subsequently drives intestinal inflammation.”
Recently, researchers from Georgia State University in Atlanta set out to see if these emulsifiers also influenced mental wellbeing. The focussed on two commonly used emulsifiers — carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) and polysorbate-80 (P80).
The Microbiome and Psychological health
In many recent studies scientists have already described a clear pathway between the gut and the brain. These studies have shown that our gut health and the health of our gut bacteria can have a substantial influence on our mental well-being. Most of the studies concluded that lack of good bacteria in the gut and overuse of antibiotics could significantly alter the microbiome, anxiety levels, and social behaviour over the long-term.
This most recent study investigated whether P80 and CMC might alter our mental state. The team added CMC and P80 to the drinking water of recipients for 12 weeks. They then measured the changes in the microbiome, behaviour and other physiological changes as well. The results showed that these emulsifiers caused general systemic inflammation, which extended to the brain and to behavioural changes. The researchers published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.
The impact of emulsifiers
The scientists showed that the emulsifiers did impact good gut bacteria, but in different ways for male and females. They also showed that the changes in behaviour were different between the sexes. Males tended to have an increase in anxiety, where the females tended to have a reduction in social behaviour.
While it is not known how these emulsifiers affect behaviour, it is speculated that the inflammation they produce affects signalling pathways in body tissue and parts of the brain. The gut also contains branches of the vagus nerve, which has a direct link to the brain. The researchers said that more research is needed into this very important area of medicine.
In recent years there have been increase levels of anxiety and mood disorders in our western society. While there are many other factors to the increase of anxiety and mood disorders, such as stress and lifestyle changes, the researchers have questioned if these additives may also be playing a part in this as well.
For now, the researchers recommend that we should really look at how these food additives impact our microbiome and gut bacteria and increase systemic inflammation in the body. It is great to see that science has now showing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the microbiome plays a significant role in our overall health. Not just our physical health, but our mental and emotional health as well.
This is why I always recommend health diet and lifestyle changes for every condition I help with. This is also why I promote the use of healthy beneficial bacteria (probiotics) daily in our diet as well. Good health always starts with good diet. Good health always starts with a healthy gut/microbiome as well.
Dr Andrew Orr
-Women’s and Men’s Health Expert
-No Stone Left Unturned