The additive, E171, which has been banned in France, dramatically changes the gut microbiome—its 'universe' of bacteria—causes inflammation in the colon and alters the way the liver works.
Researchers from the University of Massachusetts say the discovery has big implications for the food industry, and the way we look after our own health.
The additive delivers a nanoparticle, titanium dioxide (Ti02), that can accumulate in body tissues and cause chronic health problems. An imbalance in the gut microbiome has already been linked to IBD, cardiovascular disease and obesity, and the researchers fear that E171s could be causing those problems and more besides.
Children can have up to four times the levels of E171s as adults, the researchers warn, especially in the US. The additives, which are in many processed foods and drinks, act as whiteners and can also make food opaque.
The research has looked at the impact of E171 and Ti02 on groups of mice, and obese ones were especially affected by the nanoparticles.
The researchers are confident similar effects would be seen in people.
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