Frequent dietary intake of various emulsifiers is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Corresponding emulsifiers are particularly common in industrially processed foods.
A new study involving experts from the Université de Paris-Cité examined the associations between the intake of food additives and the risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular disease. The results have been published in the specialist journal “BMJ”.
These foods contain emulsifiers
Emulsifiers are commonly found in processed and packaged foods such as ready meals, pastries, cakes, ice cream, desserts, chocolate, bread and even margarine. They are used to improve the appearance, taste, consistency and shelf life of food.
Examples of such emulsifiers are cellulose, mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, modified starches, lecithins, carrageenan, phosphates, gum and pectins, the researchers report.
Cardiovascular problems from emulsifiers?
The safety of emulsifiers is regularly evaluated based on the available scientific evidence, with recent research suggesting that emulsifiers can disrupt the bacteria in the gut and increase inflammation. According to the team, this could contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular problems.
Almost 100,000 participants were examined
In the new study, the researchers examined this connection in a total of 95,442 adults who had no history of heart disease and who were part of the NutriNet Santé cohort study between 2009 and 2021. 79 percent of the participants were women and the average age was 43 years.
Participants were instructed to fill out various 24-hour online food logs over the course of the study. By comparing the food and beverages with three databases, the experts were able to determine the content of food additives. In addition, laboratory tests were carried out.
Participants were also asked to report any cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks and strokes. These cases were validated by an expert committee based on medical records.
Cardiovascular disease-related deaths were determined using the French national death register, taking into account various risk factors.
Emulsifiers increase risk of cardiovascular disease
After a median medical follow-up of seven years, it was shown that there was a positive association between a higher intake of total cellulose (E460-E468), cellulose (E460) and carboxymethyl cellulose (E466) and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease – particularly coronary Heart disease — says the team.
The increased intake of monoglycerides and diglycerides of fatty acids (E471 and E472) was associated with an increased risk for all diseases studied. Of these emulsifiers, lactic acid esters of monoglycerides and diglycerides of fatty acids (E472b) were associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease.
In contrast, citric acid esters of monoglycerides and diglycerides of fatty acids (E472c) increased the risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease. According to the experts, it was also shown that a high intake of trisodium phosphate (E339) also increased the risk of coronary heart disease.
The team adds that no evidence of a link between the other emulsifiers studied and any of the cardiovascular endpoints was identified.
Study results to be classified as robust
Although the study was observational and had some limitations (such as the high proportion of women), the results remained the same after further testing. According to the researchers, this indicates that the results can be classified as quite robust.
The researchers explain that this is of particular concern as there are thousands of highly processed foods with corresponding emulsifiers on the market. Their consumption can have far-reaching effects on public health.
Ultimately, the study results could even lead to a reassessment of regulations on the use of food additives in the food industry, according to the research team.
“Meanwhile, several health authorities are recommending limiting consumption of ultra-processed foods to reduce exposure to non-essential, controversial food additives,” the experts add in a press release. (as)