On February 13, Inserm and INRAE published a press release on the link between emulsifying food additives and an increased risk of cancer, particularly breast and prostate cancer. The press release is based on research findings published in PLoS Medicine.

The study was carried out by various bodies, including CRESS researchers Mathilde Touvier and Bernard Srour, the study’s principal co-authors, and analyzed the health data of over 92,000 adult participants in the French NutriNet-Santé cohort, with regard to their consumption of certain food emulsifiers.

Emulsifiers are among the most commonly used additives in industrial processed and packaged foods.

The press release states: “Recent research suggests that emulsifiers may disrupt the intestinal microbiota and increase the risk of inflammation, potentially leading to the development of certain cancers. For the first time at international level, a team of French researchers has investigated the relationship between dietary intake of emulsifiers and the risk of several cancer sites in a large general population study”.

The results, the fruit of several years’ research, are based on French data from the NutriNet-Santé cohort, in which 92,000 adults participated between 2009 and 2021. Participants reported the occurrence of cancer (2,604 cases diagnosed) during their cohort follow-up, and a medical committee validated these reports after reviewing medical records.

“After an average follow-up of 7 years, the researchers found that higher intakes of monoglycerides and diglycerides of fatty acids (E471) were associated with increased risks of cancers overall, breast cancers, and prostate cancers. On the other hand, women with higher intakes of carrageenans (E407 and E407a) had a 32% greater risk of developing breast cancers, compared with the group with lower intakes.”

This research is the first in the world to suggest links between emulsifiers and cancer risk. However, the study has some limitations, as the press article suggests, in particular its observational design, which does not allow a causal link to be concluded without taking other studies into account. However:

“If these results are to be replicated in other studies around the world, they bring key new knowledge to the debate on re-evaluating regulations on the use of additives in the food industry, in order to better protect consumers,” explain Mathilde Touvier and Bernard Srour, lead authors of the study.

Photo credit: Mathilde Touvier

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