Emulsifier Food Additives Linked to Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer Risks: Study

Researchers recommend consumers eat the smallest amount of emulsifiers as possible as part of their daily diet, particularly those in processed foods.

Consuming emulsifiers, which are a common ingredient in many processed foods, may increase the risk of developing different types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer, according the findings of a new study.

Emulsifiers are food additives widely used in products such as frozen pizzas, fast food, junk foods, and other processed foods. They are used to improve the texture of food and extend the shelf-life, as well as help improve how ingredients mix and prevent them from separating.

In findings published last month in the medical journal PLOS Medicine, researchers warn that individuals may face a 32% increased risk of cancer if they have higher intake of carrageenan, which is one of the most common types of emulsifiers, leading to calls for additional research to be conducted to obtain epidemiological evidence on the link between emulsifiers and cancer.

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Researchers from the Sorbonne University in Paris studied 92,000 adults in the NutriNet-Sante cohort. They gave participants five questionnaires about food intake, health, and lifestyle data, and they were followed for seven years. Then, food additive intake was estimated for participants based on repeated 24-hour dietary records linked to specific brand consumption.

The study identified 60 emulsifiers and broke them down into eight groups: Lactylates, phosphates, polyglycerol ester molecules of fatty acids, carrageenans, celluloses, alginates, and modified starches.

On average, participants consumed one or more emulsifiers in their food every day. Those who consumed emulsifiers in processed food were more likely to be younger, have a higher body mass index, have a higher calorie intake, and consume more processed and ultra-processed foods in their diets.

Emulsifier Cancer Risks

A total of 2,600 cancer cases were diagnosed during the follow-up period. Of those, 750 were breast cancer, 322 were prostate cancer, and 207 were colorectal cancers. Cancer cases also included 90 instances of lymphomas, 110 squamous cell carcinomas, 124 lung cancers, and 162 cases of melanoma; the deadliest type of skin cancer.

According to the findings, higher intake of emulsifiers was linked with a 15% higher risk of overall cancer, a 24% increased risk of breast cancer, and a 46% increased risk of prostate cancer.

Increased intake of carrageenan, an emulsifier often used in nut milk, cottage cheese, and ice cream, increased the risk of breast cancer by 32%.

The data indicated there was no link detected between the emulsifiers and colorectal cancer risk.

Other Emulsifier Health Concerns

Prior research has indicated emulsifiers may influence the intestinal microbiome, leading to chronic inflammation, which may also contribute to the risk of cancer.

A study published in 2023 found emulsifiers may also increase the risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and cerebrovascular disease.

Other research has linked consuming ultra-processed foods, foods containing emulsifiers, additives, preservatives, and dyes to an increased risk of fatal heart problems and an increased risk of early death.

Researchers warn consumers should try to consume the smallest amount of emulsifiers and processed foods in their diet as possible. However, more research is needed to conclusively link emulsifiers with an increased risk of cancers, the researchers concluded.

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