On sticky summer days, ice cream doesn’t stand a chance.
Decades ago, manufacturers created a novel workaround for the rapid meltdown: synthetic emulsifiers firm up shape and slow liquefaction. Polysorbate 80 is one of many emulsifiers engineered into processed foods, beauty products and medications.
Emulsifiers are Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Yet consumers are growing wary of the long list of additives—all with noble purpose—that are tucked inside their goods. Purported safety is under attack.
Recent studies have demonstrated that some emulsifiers alter the colonic microbiota, leading to colonic low-grade inflammation, obesity, and metabolic abnormalities in mice.
Our gut microbes are implicated in these disorders. How do microbes respond to emulsifiers?
One new study investigated the effect of polysorbate-80 (P80) on the small-intestinal microbiota in normal mice. Dietary emulsifier polysorbate-80 induces small-intestinal vulnerability to indomethacin-induced lesions via dysbiosis was published online in Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in July of 2019.
The mice were given P80 for 8 weeks. One group received the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) called indomethacin. Both ileal and colonic microbiota composition was assessed along with intestinal damage.
- P80 increased the Gammaproteobacteria abundance
- No decrease in diversity in large intestine
- P80 pretreatment exacerbated the indomethacin-induced small-intestinal lesions.
- Decrease in diversity in the small intestine
- Also, other changes ensued which are of interest when defining safety in food additives.
Emulsifiers and behavior
In other research this year, emulsifier exposure altered anxiety-like and social behaviors in mice, and did so in a sex-specific manner. One big clue comes from studies on germ-free animals. As illustration, these mice are protected from emulsifier exposure—no inflammation or metabolic changes. But when transplanted with microbiota from emulsifier-treated animals, disturbances arose.
… emulsifier exposure induced chronic intestinal inflammation, increased adiposity, and altered gut microbiota composition in both male and female mice, although the specific microboal taxa altered following emulsifier consumption occurred in a sex-dependent manner.”Holder, Mary K et al. “Dietary emulsifiers consumption alters anxiety-like and social-related behaviors in mice in a sex-dependent manner.” Scientific reports vol. 9,1 172. 17 Jan. 2019, doi:10.1038/s41598-018-36890-3
In conclusion, emulsifiers are microbiota stressors which are only now being assessed after many decades of infiltration into the marketplace. Reading labels and consuming more minimally processed foods are good practices to minimize possible harms.
And finally, maybe ice cream is better eaten quickly—not so hard to do.