Purpose of Review
The purpose of this review is to discuss the implications of the increased prevalence of emulsifiers in processed foods in daily consumption, the links to obesity both in mice and in vitro studies, and how those findings correlate with humans.
There is rising interest in understanding the contributors to the obesity epidemic. One potential component recently studied has been the consumption of processed foods causing inflammatory changes leading to metabolic syndrome. This phenomenon has been shown in several mice and in vitro studies with changes in microbiome composition, elevated fasting blood glucose, hyperphagia, increased weight gain and adiposity, hepatic steatosis increased inflammatory markers, and a correlation with increased incidence of colorectal cancer.
Emulsifiers are found in most foods consumed in the US population, which has increased over the years. This review focuses on understanding the initial approved safe levels of emulsifier consumption, the preceding increased use in foods with higher daily consumption than was previously tested, measuring these levels in animal models, and the positive association with obesity and metabolic syndrome. Future research will require prospectively studying emulsifier consumption more accurately along with the associated respective changes in the microbiome to determine the relationship to obesity.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Overweight &Obesity. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html. Assessed 27 Mar 2019.
Keith SW, Redden DT, Katzmarzyk PT, et al. Putative contributors to the secular increase in obesity: exploring the roads less traveled. Int J Obes. 2006;30:1585–94.
Swinburn BA, Sacks G, Hall KD, et al. The global obesity pandemic: shaped by global drivers and local environments. Lance. 2011;378:804–14.
Jeaon JY, Ha KW, Kim DJ. New risk factors for obesity and diabetes: environmental chemicals. J Diabetes Investig. 2015;6(2):109–11.
Singh RK, Ishikawa S. Food additive P-80 impacts mouse gut microbiota promoting intestinal inflammation, obesity, and liver dysfunction. SOJ Microbioal Infec Dis. 2016;4(1):1–10.
•• Chassaing B, Koren O, Goodrich J, et al. Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature. 2015;519:92–9 This study highlights the many findings of differing concentrations of emulsifiers on the small bowel of mice.
Chassaing B, Van de Wiele T, De Bodt J, et al. Dietary emulsifiers directly alter human microbiota composition and gene expression ex vivo potentiating intestinal inflammation. Gut. 2017;66:1414–27.
• Halmos EP, Mack A, Gibson PR. Review article: emulsifiers in the food supply and implications for gastrointestinal disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2019;49:41–50 This article describes the different types of emulsifiers and how they may be implicated in gastrointestinal diseases.
World Health Organization: Food additives. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/food-additives. Accessed 4 Feb 2019
U.S. Food & Drug Administration: Food Additives & Ingredients. Available from: https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm094211.htm#foodadd. Accessed 4 Feb 2019.
• Vo TD, Lynch BS, Roberts A. Dietary Exposures to common emulsifiers and their impact on the gut microbiota: is there a cause for concern? Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2019;18:31–47.
Shah R, Kolanos R, et al. Dietary exposures for the safety assessment of seven emulsifiers commonly added to foods in the United States and implications for safety. Food Addit Contam. 2017;34(6):905–17.
Roca-Saavedra P, et al. Food additives, contaminants and other minor components-effects on human gut microbiota-a review. J Physiol Biochem. 2018;74:69–83.
Lerner A, Mattias T. Changes in the intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease. Autoimmun Rev. 2015;14:479–89.
World Health Organization Technical Report Series. 2017:1000:1-162. Evaluation of certain food additives.
Dolle L. Are dietary emulsifiers making us fat? J Hepatol. 2015;63:1040–53.
Kindy K. Food additives on the rise as FDA scrutiny wanes. The Washington Post. August 17, 2017. Available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/food-additives-on-the-rise-as-fda-scrutiny-wanes/2014/08/17/828e9bf8-1cb2-11e4-ab7b-696c295ddfd1_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.4f6c055a99bb. Assessed 4 Feb 2019.
Swidsinski A, Ung V, Sydora BC, Loening-Baucke V, et al. Bacterial overgrowth and inflammation of small intestine after carboxymethylcelluose ingestion in genetically susceptible mice. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2009;15(3):359–64.
Aguirre M, Bussolo de Souza C, Venema K. The gut microbiota from lean and obese subjects contribute differently to the fermentation of arabinogalactan and inulin. PLoSONe. 2016;11(7):e0159236. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0159236.
Viennois E, Merlin D, Gewirtz AT, Chassaing B. Dietary emulsifier-induced low grade inflammation promotes colon carcinogenesis. Cancer Res. 2017;77:37–40.
Shang Q, Sun W, Shan X, et al. Carrageenan-induced colitis is associated with decreased population of anti-inflammatory bacterium, Akkermansia muciniphila, in the gut microbiota of C57BL/6 J mice. Toxicol Lett. 2017;279:87–95.
Clarke S, et al. The gut microbiota and its relationship to diet and obesity. Gut Microbes. 2012;3(3):186–202.
Xu X, et al. AMP-activated protein kinas (AMPK): does the master regulator of cellular energy. State distinguish insulin sensitive from insulin resistant obesity? Curr Obes Rep. 2014;3(2):248–525.
De Filippo C, Cavalieri D, Di Paola M, Ramazzotti M, Poullet JB, Massart S, et al. Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010;107:14691–6.
Glade MJ, Meguid MM. A glance at...dietary emulsifiers, the human intestinal mucus and microbiome, and dietary fiber. Nutrition. 2016;32:609–14.
Sonnenburg ED, Sonnenburg JL. Starving our microbioal self: the deleterious consequences of a diet deficient in microbiota-accessible carbohydrates. Cell Metab. 2014;20:779–86.
•• Hall K, Ayuketah A, Brychta R, Cai H, Cassimatis T, Chen K, et al. Ultra-processed diets cause excess calorie intake and weight gain: an inpatient randomized controlled trial of ad libitum food intake. Cell Metab. 2019;30:1–11 This is a randomized control trial comparing the metabolic changes associated with ultra-processed vs minimally processed diets.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent
This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Topical Collection on Nutrition and Obesity
About this article
Cite this article
Laster, J., Bonnes, S.L. & Rocha, J. Increased Use of Emulsifiers in Processed Foods and the Links to Obesity. Curr Gastroenterol Rep 21, 61 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11894-019-0723-4
- Metabolic syndrome
- Gut microbiome
- Processed foods