Some packaged foods contains thickeners or emulsifiers to make food taste better or preserve it for longer shelf life. This is generally a good thing, but for some people with IBS it can irritate the gut. 

Emulsifiers in foods

Anyone eaten any carboxylmethylcellulose or polysorbate-80 today?

Doesn’t sound like something you’d like to eat, but it’s actually in quite a lot of our processed foods, especially to provide some texture in

  • ice cream,
  • low fat products
  • thickened non-dairy milk drinks.

It’s also known as cellulose gum and binds water and fat to create a thickened product.

Research study into gut health and emulsifiers

New research in mice that certain types of common food additives can impact the gut permeability, and microbiome, as well as affecting anxiety behaviour. This was a mouse study, so not always directly applicable to humans, after all we’re not rodents.

Mice were given emulsifiers in their drinking water for 12 weeks.

Previous studies showed adding  Carboxymethylcellulose CMC or P-80 to the diet of mice altered the composition of the gut bacteria, and induced low-grade inflammation and metabolic disorders.

What did the study find

This study showed that the emulsifiers affected the behaviour of the mice, probably due to the gut-brain link.

The mice showed altered anxiety-like and sociability behaviour changes when they had taken large amounts of emulsifiers.

There were some differences in how the male and female mice reacted. Male mice showed more anxiety-like behaviours and female mice showed reduced social behaviour as a result of these changes.

These emulsifiers also induced chronic low-grade inflammation, ultimately leading to changes in the way the mice processed fats and glucose.

Other studies hae shown a reduction in gut microbiome diversity 

What’s does the study mean?

Whilst this study was in mice, not humans, we already know emulsifiers can alter the gut microbiome.

This shows there may be a further impact on our mental health as well.

If you eat ice cream once a month, you probably won’t be affected by the additives. But if you eat it 5x a week as well as other heavily processed foods you may notice a change when you stop eating them.

If you’re worried about your gut health or have ongoing IBS symptoms you may wish to consider how much processed food you eat, and where you can reduce exposure to these kinds of compounds.

Contact me for your free discovery call to talk about how we can work together. 

IBS Nutritionist

Hi, I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritional Therapist.

I help people with IBS and SIBO get control of unpredictable gut symptoms to find long term relief from painful and embarrassing IBS without restrictive dieting.

I can help you to:

  • understand your digestion better, so you recognise your triggers
  • eat a well balanced diet, with tasty meals that are simple to prepare
  • reintroduce your trigger foods so you can get back to enjoying food again

Find more about my 3 month 1:1 Gut Reset programme. 

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