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Does Intestinal Inflammation In Colitis Deteriorate Due to Titanium Dioxide Particles In Foods?

Does Intestinal Inflammation In Colitis Deteriorate Due to Titanium Dioxide Particles In Foods?

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  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) namely ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease is on the rise worldwide and several factors are believed to play a role, especially a Western lifestyle and diet.
  • Current study suggests titanium dioxide, a food grade additive in several foods could increase intestinal inflammation associated with IBD and exacerbate the condition.

Titanium dioxide, a food grade additive in the form of nanoparticles is added to several foods and may be actually doing more harm than we realize, including increasing intestinal inflammation and worsening existing IBD according to a recent study done at the University of Zurich.

Titanium dioxide Nanoparticles And Inflammatory Bowel Disease - Reason For Study

As mentioned earlier, IBD incidence is on the increase and in addition to genetic factors, a Western diet is thought to play a major role in its pathogenesis.


Interestingly, the use of titanium dioxide nanoparticles, one of the most widely used food additive (referred to as E171) to foods to increase their glossiness, give a smooth texture and to enhance whiteness and brightness has been going on for several years without any restrictions on the food industry until recently.

Not much is known about the effects of TiO2 in the intestine and existing research is mostly about its effects on the respiratory tract following inhalation where it is known to cause airway inflammation and asthma. However, earlier studies have shown TiO2 can cause production of reactive oxygen species and trigger inflammation and tissue damage both in culture cells (in vitro) as well as inside the body (in vivo).

The research team of Gerhard Rogler, professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at the

University of Zurich proceeded to investigate the effects of TiO2 on the intestinal tract and its possible role in the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease.

Titanium dioxide Effects On Intestinal Cells - Findings Of The Study
  • To study the effects of TiO2 the team initially analyzed its effect in cell cultures. It was observed that titanium dioxide nanoparticles could penetrate human intestinal epithelial cells and macrophages and accumulate within them.
  • The nanoparticles triggered an inflammatory reaction in the intestinal cells by activating the NLRP3 (nod like receptor P3) inflammasome, a part of the non-specific immune response that perceived the inorganic nanoparticles as danger signals.
  • Additionally, in mice models of inflammatory bowel disease, it was observed that oral administration of TiO2 worsened the intestinal inflammation and destruction of the epithelial cells by activating the NLRP3 pathway.
  • The TiO2 particles were shown to accumulate in the spleen of mice indicating that the particles were absorbed from the intestine into the blood circulation and reached the spleen.
  • When the blood of patients with ulcerative colitis was tested, they were noted to have an increased of TiO2, again strongly suggesting that these particles were absorbed into the blood stream through the diseased intestinal cells in ulcerative colitis where the normal protective barrier of the intestinal epithelium is lost.
"This shows that these particles can be absorbed from food under certain disease conditions," Rogler says.

The findings of the study suggest that inorganic TiO2 nanoparticles in foods may be seen as foreign and trigger an inflammatory reaction in the intestinal cells with worsening of disease symptoms in IBD. Also, these particles could be absorbed into the circulation via the defective intestinal barrier in IBD and reach the blood and be carried to all parts of the body.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease 

Inflammatory bowel disease encompasses ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease and is characterized by attacks and remissions of abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. The exact etiology is not known but a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a role.

Among the environmental factors, a predominantly Western lifestyle and diet have been shown to be associated with an increased risk of developing IBD.

Interestingly alterations in the Nlrp3 gene have been identified in Crohn's disease patients lending credence to the observation that TiO2 particles mediated damage to the intestinal mucosa in mice models of IBD was through activation of this pathway.

Takeaway From The Study
  • Based on the observations of the study team, the Nlrp3 pathway could be studied as a target for possible therapeutic interventions in inflammatory bowel disease in future research.
  • Importantly, the findings of the study suggest that persons diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease should avoid consuming foods containing titanium dioxide and pay careful attention to food labels before purchasing. Instead, they should switch to a diet low in inorganic components including inorganic nanoparticles to keep their disease under check.
In conclusion, further research and studies are necessary to confirm the effects of titanium dioxide particles on the intestinal epithelium and other tissues as well as focusing on how different nanoparticle sizes might impact or change their effect in causing inflammation and tissue damage or absorption into the bloodstream.

These studies would help in gaining more insight into the biological effects of these particles and help in formulating and fine tuning guidelines for use of inorganic nanoparticles by the food industry with strict regulations.

References :
  1. Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles in Food and Personal Care Products - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3288463/)
  2. What You Should Know about Titanium Dioxide - (https://www.bestfoodfacts.org/titanium-dioxide-maynard/)
Source: Medindia

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