Research links processed food additives to anxiety.  

It’s a year since a major study produced yet more evidence that heavily processed food can make us sick, but now new research suggests a very common food additive may increase anxiety. How so? Because of the impact it may have on our gut bacteria.

Emulsifiers are a very common processed food ingredient, with food manufacturers using the chemicals to alter the texture of food as well as extend its shelf life. They are commonly used in mass produced bread, chocolate, margarine, processed meats, and more.

Studies have shown that dietary emulsifiers directly alter human microbiota composition and gene expression, driving intestinal inflammation. Now this study suggests two emulsifiers (CMC and P80) can influence mental wellbeing.

The impact of our gut health on our mental function is a popular topic at present and this study will certainly encourage further research. Adding CMC and P80 to the drinking water of mice for 12 weeks, after measuring behaviour and changes in their microbiome, the researchers saw an increase in anxious behaviour, particularly in male mice. In female mice, there was a reduction in social behaviour. Exactly how emulsifiers might have affected the behaviour remains subject to conjecture, but the conclusion was that commonly used food additives may potentially negatively impact anxiety-related and social behaviours and may do so via different mechanisms in males and females.

With anxiety and IBS on the rise in recent years in countries with diets containing a high proportion of processed food, further investigation into the role of food additives and their impact on the microbiome is urgently required.

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