Common Food Additive May Impact the Gut Microbiota, Increase the Risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

food additive inflammatory bowel diseaseNew research out of the University of Sydney provides new evidence that a common food additive may have a substantial influence on gut microbiota, which could result in inflammatory bowel disease. The food additive known as E171 (titanium dioxide nanoparticles) is commonly used in foods and some medicine as a whitening agent.

E171 is consumed in high proportion every day by the general public as it is commonly used in high quantities in more than 900 food products, including chewing gum and mayonnaise.


Nanoparticles have commonly been used in food, clothing, and medicine for some time now. The possible impacts of nanoparticles, especially their long-term effects and a link to colon inflammation, are still poorly studied.

Co-lead author Associate Professor Chrzanowski, a nanotoxicology expert from the University of Sydney’s School of Pharmacy and Sydney Nano Institute, said: “The aim of this research is to stimulate discussions on new standards and regulations to ensure the safe use of nanoparticles in Australia and globally.”

A Significant Impact on Gut Microbiota

The study, which was published in Frontiers in Nutrition, found that in mice who consumed food containing E171, there was a significant impact on the gut microbiota (defined by the trillions of bacteria that inhabit the gut), which could trigger diseases such as inflammatory bowel diseases and colorectal cancer.

As titanium dioxide consumption has drastically increased in the last decade, it has already been linked to several medical conditions. Dementia, cancer metastasis, eczema, asthma, autism, and auto-immune diseases have all been linked to the growing exposure to nanoparticles.

Chrzanowski said, “It is well established that dietary composition has an impact on physiology and health, yet the role of food additives is poorly understood.”

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


“This study presents pivotal evidence that consumption of food containing food additive E171 (titanium dioxide) affects gut microbiota as well as inflammation in the gut, which could lead to diseases such as inflammatory bowel diseases and colorectal cancer,” he said.

Associate Professor Macia, who is an immunologist expert also spoke about the findings of the study, “This study investigated effects of titanium dioxide on gut health in mice and found that titanium dioxide did not change the composition of gut microbiota, but instead it affected bacteria activity and promoted their growth in a form of undesired biofilm. Biofilms are bacteria that stick together and the formation of biofilm has been reported in diseases such as colorectal cancer,”

With the help of more studies such as this, researchers hope to substantially add to a body of work on nanoparticle toxicity and safety and their impact on health and the environment.