Titanium dioxide is all over your supermarket.
It’s in chewing gum, candy, bread, doughnuts, yogurt, cake frosting, pastries, mayonnaise, coffee creamer…anything food manufacturers want to make look bright white.
For years, this food whitening agent and preservative has been linked to digestive problems. Researchers have found that it destroys digestive enzymes and increases intestinal inflammation.
The evidence is so strong that earlier this year France banned titanium dioxide from food. But it’s still perfectly legal in the U.S.
Now, a new animal study shows that titanium dioxide damages liver function and causes colon inflammation.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst fed the chemical to two groups of mice. One was obese. The other was normal weight. In both groups, titanium oxide damaged digestion.
The additive altered the microbiome, the “good” bacteria in the gut that contributed to good digestive and overall health.
The scientists also found that titanium oxide changed protein expression in the liver, damaging the organ’s ability to function properly. It also caused colon inflammation, the primary symptom of colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and other common digestive conditions.
Professor Hang Xiao led the research. “The study confirmed a strong linkage between foodborne titanium dioxide nanoparticles and adverse health effects,” he said.
The new study backs up earlier findings by scientists at Binghamton University, State University of New York.
They dosed human subjects’ intestinal cells with the equivalent of one meal’s worth of titanium dioxide. They did this three times over five days.
The additive diminished the ability of cells to absorb nutrients. The intestinal barrier was weakened, metabolism slowed, and crucial nutrients—such as iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids—became difficult to absorb.
The researchers found that titanium dioxide damages cell structures in the gut called microvilli. These are tiny projections that absorb nutrients while providing a barrier against germs. Subjects’ microvilli were sparser after being exposed to only three meals’ worth of titanium dioxide.
With fewer microvilli, inflammation in the gut increased dramatically, researchers found.
Dr. Gretchen Mahler was a co-author of the study. She said it is clear that titanium dioxide “alters intestinal function.”
At least two other studies have also found that titanium dioxide damages digestion:
- A 2017 study in the journal Scientific Reports tested the additive in rats. They were fed a typical human-equivalent dosage. After four weeks, the animals suffered intestinal inflammation. Many developed pre-cancerous colon lesions.
- A 2019 paper in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition analyzed 46 studies on titanium dioxide as a food additive. It confirmed that the chemical increases gut inflammation, which can lead to “conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or colorectal cancer.”
7 Ways Food Manufacturers Hide Titanium Dioxide
Titanium dioxide was first used in American foods in the 1960s. With the rise of processed foods, it is now more prevalent than ever.
A 2012 study at Arizona State University tested 89 off-the-shelf food products that were white…foods like mayonnaise, Twinkies (the filling is white), chewing gum, and frosting. Every single white-colored product tested positive for titanium dioxide.
Because of health concerns, Dunkin’ Donuts has voluntarily stopped using titanium dioxide to color its doughnuts. The European Union is now considering following France’s example and banning it from the rest of the continent.
But in the U.S., the chemical remains in widespread use. Dr. Mahler says reducing your exposure can restore normal digestion. But that’s easier said than done.
The FDA allows American food makers to hide titanium dioxide on ingredient labels by using misleading names. Food companies hide it by listing it as:
- Pigment white 6
- Titanium white
Bright white processed foods that contain titanium dioxide include:
- Coffee creamers
- Chewing gum
- Ice cream
- Vanilla pudding
- White cheeses
To protect your digestive health, read food labels closely to avoid foods containing titanium dioxide. And when you go to restaurants, don’t order items that contain bright white, processed ingredients.
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