New study finds common additive in medicine could lead to cancer and bowel disease

Consumption of a common Australian food additive, also used in medicines, could lead to colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease according to new research from the University of Sydney.

As part of the study, researchers fed food containing the common additive E171 (titanium dioxide nanoparticles) to mice over a period of time, then studied changes to the trillions of different bacteria that populate the gut. The changes they observed are known to be triggers for inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer.

Matthew Bellgrove from National Custom Compounding on the Gold Coast said the new study added to the weight of research raising alarm bells about additives used not just in food, but also medicine.

“Many health-conscious people religiously avoid processed foods with additives and preservatives, however what they don’t realise is that these things are also in their medication.”

Food additive E171 is used in high quantities as an anti-caking and whitening agent in more than 900 processed foods including mayonnaise, donuts and chewing gum as well as in many prescription and over-the-counter medications.

In April of this year France announced it would ban the use of titanium dioxide as a food additive from 2020 after a study conducted by France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research found that E171 crosses the intestinal walls of animals and enters other parts of the body.

Co-lead author of the University of Sydney study, Associate Professor Wojciech Chrzanowski, said the long term health impacts of nanoparticles like E171 on humans are not well understood and more discussion was needed on what constitutes safe levels in our foods and medicines.

“There is increasing evidence that continuous exposure to nanoparticles has an impact on gut microbiota composition, and since gut microbiota is a gate keeper of our health, any changes to its function have an influence on overall health,” Associate Professor Chrzanowski said.

Mr Bellgrove said he was seeing an increase in patients coming to his pharmacy for compounded medication that was free of additives, colours and preservatives.

“If you’re taking several medications on a long term treatment plan you could find yourself consuming many more preservatives and additives than you bargained on,” Matthew said, “These additives aren’t necessary for the medicine to be effective – every day we make up medications to the same formula used by the drug manufacturers, but without all the potentially harmful extras.”

“It can be done safely, cheaply and with the same level of efficacy. A whitening agent is purely used for aesthetic reasons, to make the pills look nicer for the consumer.”

Co-author of the research, Associate Professor Laurence Macia, said the study found the composition of gut microbiota was not changed by titanium dioxide however it did promote the formation of potentially harmful biofilm.

“Biofilms are bacteria that stick together and the formation of biofilm has been reported in diseases such as colorectal cancer,” Associate Professor Laurence Macia said.

Mr Bellgrove said anyone concerned about whether their medication contained E171 could contact his office on (07) 5530 6677 or [email protected] for free, no-obligation advice.

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