You are what you eat: Processed food additives linked to obesity, gut inflammation and food addictions

You are what you eat: Processed food additives linked to obesity, gut inflammation and food addictions

Processed food can remain longer on shop shelves, but what does that spell for our digestion? In a new research paper published in the journal Nature, scientists from Georgia State University examined how food additive emulsifiers affect the digestive health of mice.

Emulsifiers are added to most processed foods to prolong shelf life and enhance texture. The research team fed mice two of the most common emulsifiers on the market — polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose. They observed that the emulsifiers altered the mice’s gut microbiota or friendly bacteria found in the intestinal tract. Not only did this increase the risk of developing obesity, but also inflammatory bowel disease. It’s no coincidence both these conditions have been increasing since the 1950s.

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"The dramatic increase in these diseases has occurred despite consistent human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor," the study’s co-author Benoit Chassaing, a researcher from GSU’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences, said in a press release. "Food interacts intimately with the microbiota, so we considered what modern additions to the food supply might make gut bacteria more pro-inflammatory."

Emulsifiers help to hold food together. Mayonnaise without emulsifiers, for example, will separate from an oily top layer to a thicker white layer that rests on the bottom of the jar. Once the emulsifiers were ingested by the mice, their blood-glucose levels went awry, inflamed their intestinal mucus layer, which left them with weight gain, specifically in the abdomen. The bacterial change triggered chronic colitis and metabolic syndrome, which includes obesity, hyperglycaemia, and insulin resistance.

You are what you eat

Ultimately, you are what you eat. If your diet is smeared with margarine, mayonnaise, creamy sauces, candy, ice cream, and most other packaged and processed baked goods, you and your gut may be at risk.

"We do not disagree with the commonly held theory that over-eating is a primary cause of obesity and metabolic syndrome," the study’s coauthor Andrew T. Gewirtz, a researcher from GSU’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences, said in press release. "Rather, our findings strengthen the concept intimated by earlier work that low-grade inflammation produced from a modified microbiota can be an underlying cause of excess eating."

Food addiction and overeating

What’s worse are the new results from research out of the University of Michigan, which found processed foods are the most likely to trigger a food addiction and overeating. The brain responds to processed food much like it reacts to street drugs. The very dense high-calorie processed foods do contribute an abundant amount of energy, which is why the body craves them. However, there’s a point when it becomes too much, and now it even changes the way the gut responds to food.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. Please do not apply any of this information without first speaking with your doctor.


Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. Please do not apply any of this information without first speaking with your doctor.

Dominick Hussey is an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner, a Functional Medicine Practitioner, a PDTR Therapy Practitioner and the Co-founder of Holistic Wellness Ottawa

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