Common Food Additives Promote Several Cancers.

According to a recent French study, emulsifiers, which are food additives commonly used by the food industry, increase the risk of cancers, particularly breast and prostate cancers. We propose to review these initial findings, which should encourage consumers to limit their consumption of ultra-processed products more than ever.

What are emulsifiers?

Emulsifiers are among the most widely used food additives in the food industry. They are used to improve the texture, appearance, and shelf life of products.

According to the Open Food Facts database, more than half of the industrial foods we consume contain them.

They can be found in every supermarket aisle, in very common products like prepared meals, industrial pastries and cakes, rusks, breaded cutlets, and desserts.

What is the link between emulsifiers and cancer?

In a study published on February 13, 2024, in the journal PLoS Medicine, French researchers from Inserm revealed that emulsifiers, which are ubiquitous in food, increase the risk of cancer by 15%, particularly breast and prostate cancers.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers analyzed the health data of 92,000 adults who participated in the French NutriNet-Santé cohort study between 2009 and 2021. The average age of the participants is 45 years, and 79% are women. During the period studied, 2,604 cases of cancer were recorded, including 750 breast cancers, 322 prostate cancers, and 207 colorectal cancers.

At this stage, the study is only an observational one, which is not sufficient in itself to establish a causal link. However, it has the merit of sounding the alarm about ultra-processed foods, which represent 30 to 60% of the energy intake of adults in Europe and North America.

Other recent research suggests that emulsifiers could disrupt the gut microbiota and increase the risk of inflammation and thus the occurrence of certain cancers.

What are the food additives under scrutiny?

This recent French study highlights two families of additives that appear to be involved in the occurrence of cancers.

The analyses showed that patients with high levels of mono and diglycerides of fatty acids in their bodies have a 15% higher risk of developing cancer, particularly breast or prostate cancer.

However, mono and diglycerides of fatty acids are widely used emulsifiers. They have been listed in over 14,000 food products in France according to Open Food Facts. This food additive, designated by the code E471, is found in certain margarines, some chocolate bars, some ice creams, and some snack products.

The second family of emulsifiers under scrutiny is carrageenans, also known as E407 and E407a. According to this study, carrageenans increase the risk of developing breast cancer by 32%. Carrageenans are found in nearly 10,000 products such as fresh creams, yogurts, and dessert creams.

How to limit the risks?

This study, which has highlighted a link between food emulsifiers and the occurrence of several cancers, should encourage you to read labels and limit your consumption of industrial foods.

Even if you don't have time to track down E471 and E407 codes, always look for the ingredient list on packaging. The longer the list, the more cautious you should be! The presence of numerous food additives is characteristic of ultra-processed products that are bad for health.

The authors of this study specify that it is not necessary to completely eliminate these additives from your diet, which would be nearly impossible. It is enough to limit their consumption, while waiting for other analyses to supplement this initial observational study and prove the causal link between these additives and certain cancers.

If these initial findings were to be confirmed, they could lead authorities to re-evaluate the regulations regarding additives in the food industry in order to better protect consumers.

Author: Audrey
Copyright image: Gabriel Lima on Pexels
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In French: Des additifs alimentaires très courants favorisent plusieurs cancers
En español: Los aditivos alimentarios muy comunes promueven varios tipos de cáncer.
In italiano: Gli additivi alimentari molto comuni favoriscono diversi tipi di cancro.
Auf Deutsch: Lebensmittelzusatzstoffe fördern häufig verschiedene Krebsarten.
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