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Harmful food additives - Scientists provides a list of dangerous emulsifiers

Harmful food additives - Scientists provides a list of dangerous emulsifiers Which food additives increase the risk of heart diseases (photo: Freepik)

Frequent consumption of several emulsifiers - food additives with E numbers, is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, according to a study published in The BMJ.

What you need to know about harmful food additives

These food additives are widely used in thousands of processed foods, enhancing their texture and extending their shelf life.

Emulsifiers are often added to pastries, cakes, ice cream, desserts, chocolates, bread, margarine, and ready-made dishes to improve their appearance, taste, texture, and shelf life. They include cellulose, mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, modified starches, lecithins, carrageenans, phosphates, alginates, and pectins.

The safety of emulsifiers is regularly assessed based on scientific evidence. However, some recent studies have shown that emulsifiers may disrupt gut bacteria and enhance inflammation, potentially leading to cardiovascular problems.

To investigate this further, researchers from France aimed to assess the link between emulsifier intake and the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular diseases – conditions that affect blood circulation and blood vessels in the heart and brain.

Their findings are based on a study of 95,442 French adults (average age 43, 79% women) with no history of heart disease. They participated in the NutriNet-Santé study between 2009 and 2021.

How the study was conducted

During the first two years of observation, participants filled out at least three (and up to 21) 24-hour online dietary records. Then, each consumed food and beverage was matched at the brand level with three databases to determine the presence and dose of any food additive. Laboratory analyses were also conducted to obtain quantitative data.

Participants were also asked to report any serious cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke, which was confirmed by an expert committee after reviewing participants' medical records.

Deaths related to cardiovascular diseases were also recorded using the French National Death Registry and several well-known cardiovascular risk factors, including age, gender, weight, education level, family history, smoking status, level of physical activity, and diet quality.

After 7 years of observation, the researchers found that:

  • E460-E468 increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and ischemic heart disease
  • E471 and E472 increase the risk of all heart diseases
  • E472b increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cerebrovascular diseases
  • E472c increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and coronary diseases
  • E339 increases the risk of ischemic heart disease

Scientists did not find a connection between other researched emulsifiers and any cardiovascular outcomes.

What nuances need to be considered

This is an observational study, and the researchers acknowledge some limitations. For instance, the high proportion of women, higher education, and generally more health-conscious behavior among participants in the NutriNet-Santé study compared to the general population of France may limit the generalizability of the results.

However, the study sample was large, and the researchers were able to adjust for a wide range of potentially confounding factors. Furthermore, the results did not change after additional testing, indicating their reliability.

The authors emphasize that these findings need to be replicated in other large-scale studies but suggest that they may "contribute to the reevaluation of regulations on the use of food additives in the food industry to protect consumers."