2 Common Food Additives Linked to Cancer

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Around 30% to 60% of the calories the average American eats come from highly processed foods. And now two additives commonly found in those foods have been linked to a higher risk of cancer.

That’s what researchers in France found after conducting an observational study with 92,000 participants.

Their analysis concludes that two emulsifiers — mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, as well as carrageenan — are associated with higher rates of breast and prostate cancers in particular.

Their findings were published in the scientific journal PLoS Medicine.

Emulsifiers are added to processed and packaged foods like some mass-produced biscuits, breads, desserts, margarine and ready-to-eat meals. These additives are used to improve the appearance, taste and texture of food and to lengthen a product’s shelf life.

For the French study, participants recorded their diets for a minimum of three days at a time, including all food and drinks and their brands. Participants then updated these records every six months during the study period.

Diets were monitored for about seven years, on average. During that time, 2,604 cases of cancer occurred, with the most common types of cancer including breast (750 cases) and prostate (322 cases).

Participants who consumed the most foods with mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids had a 15% higher risk of developing cancer compared with those who had the lowest intake of such foods. More specifically, they were at a 24% higher risk of developing breast cancer and a 46% higher risk of prostate cancer.

Participants who consumed the most foods with carrageenan had a 32% higher risk of developing breast cancer than those with the lowest rates of consumption.

While the findings seem stark, researchers note that correlation doesn’t necessarily equate to causation. In other words, the study shows that eating more foods with certain emulsifiers is associated with higher cancer rates, but it does not prove that those emulsifiers directly cause cancer.

While more research is necessary to determine cause, the researchers suspect that emulsifiers disrupt the gut’s microbiota — the microscopic organisms that live in our intestinal tracts. That disruption may result in inflammation, which may in turn increase susceptibility to certain types of cancer.

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