A Georgia State University professor has been recently granted $1.35 million by The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct research on how food emulsifiers impact the gut microbiome and how they play a role in the development of gut chronic inflammatory conditions.
Emulsifiers are added to the majority of the processed foods to extend their shelf life as well as to aid on texture. In his new research, grant recipient Andrew Gewirtz, PhD will study how the commonly used food additives disturb the relationship between gut microbiota and the gastrointestinal tract, and the different bacteria population in the intestinal tract that drive inflammation.
The researcher will also examine the underlying mechanisms by which altered gut microbiota influence the development of metabolic syndrome, a group of diseases including insulin resistance, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar levels, excess body fat around the waist and increased blood pressure.
In the intestinal tract, bacteria are typically beneficial when kept at stable levels. In previous studies, Dr. Gewirtz has found that a disruption in the relationship between the gut and microbiota can lead to chronic inflammation in the gut and cause metabolic syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
According to Dr. Gewirtz, notwithstanding genetic factors, gut diseases are increasing in incidence showing that it is important to comprehend how non-genetic factors play a role in gut inflammation.
“There has been a dramatic increase over the last 60 years in the incidence of chronic inflammatory diseases of the gut and in common metabolic diseases, including obesity, insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia … and hepatic steatosis,” said Dr. Gewirtz in a press release. “These conditions increase a person’s risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver dysfunction.”
The research will mainly be focused on emulsifiers “because these detergent-like molecules might promote the rearrangement of parts of chromosomes in bacteria across the lining of the gastrointestinal tract,” explained Dr. Gewirtz.
In previous research, Dr. Gewirtz has discovered in a mice population that was genetically predisposed to colitis that food emulsifiers in their diet, more precisely carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate 80, contributed to the development of colitis at concentrations lower than those approved for food use. Results also showed that in two mice strains, food emulsifiers played a role in the development of metabolic syndrome.
“The presence of emulsifiers in the world’s food supply roughly parallels increases in chronic inflammatory diseases,” Dr. Gewirtz noted. “This project will study how this common class of food additives could be contributing to a public health epidemic.”
In the new project, Dr. Gewirtz aims to understand whether food emulsifiers help the penetration of pathogens through the intestinal mucus barrier, therefore causing inflammation, alterations in microbiota and inducing the development of gut diseases.