Paleo Diet and Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Are Emulsifiers to Blame?

Paleo Diet and Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Are Emulsifiers to Blame?

We are often asked whether a Paleo diet can be a promising agent for the prevention and treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases. Impaired mucosal immunity in the gastrointestinal tract has been shown to lead to this debilitating condition.1 New data suggests that common food additives, called emulsifiers, could be contributing to the development of inflammatory bowel diseases, including colitis, by disturbing the composition of intestinal microbiota.2 This research has the ability to improve the health of 1-2 million people who suffer from ulcerative colitis,3 a major risk factor for colorectal cancer.4  Let’s take a closer look of how this research could impact Paleo dieters.

What role does intestinal microbiota play in reducing inflammatory conditions?

Gut microbiota is considered to be an organ within an organ,5 and provides many important benefits, especially in metabolism and immunity. In healthy individuals, the intestines are protected via multi-layered mucus structures that cover the intestinal surface, to keep a barrier between the epithelial cells that line the intestine and both healthy and pathogenic bacteria.6  Dysfunction of the relationship between the mucosal lining and bacteria results in low-grade inflammation that has been linked to promoting adiposity and contributing to negative metabolic effects,7 which can account for the increase in obesity and metabolic syndrome rates worldwide.8,9

Are emulsifiers sneaking their way into your Paleo Diet?

Emulsifiers are common food additives that impart creaminess, improve texture, extend shelf life, and emulsify oils in many processed foods. Emulsifiers and 1600 other food additives have been considered by the FDA to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). It is alarming that there are this many processed substances are added to foods regularly consumed by Americans, without fully understanding the implications of these additives.10

Current research suggest emulsifiers in particular are in fact causing physical harm.11,12,13 They are often described to be like detergent – where the molecules lead to massive bacterial overgrowth,14 damage the mucosal lining, transport bacteria across epithelial tissue,15 and are cancer promoting.16 Hopefully, this evidence will encourage the FDA to perform further analysis and alter the criteria that has previously been used to evaluate food safety. Until then, further scientific evidence indicates it is best to avoid such processed foods as they contribute to the rise of modern diseases.

Although processed foods are not a part of a true Paleo Diet, many Paleo eaters still incorporate convenience foods containing them into their diet. These foods may include chocolate, mayonnaise, coconut and almond milk products, grain-free baked goods, protein powders, as well as many personal hygiene products like toothpastes and mouthwashes. To minimize the impact on your intestinal health and overall inflammation levels, avoid the following emulsifiers in any product you buy: xanthan gum, guar gum, carrageenan, cellulose gum, polysorbate 80, and (soy) lecithin.

In addition to being void of artificial emulsifiers, the foods eaten by traditional hunter-gathers are typically lower in carbohydrate than modern diets, and have also been linked to lower levels of inflammation of the gastrointestinal microbiota. Following a Paleo diet may lead to a microbiota that is more consistent with our evolutionary ancestors, and less likely to be impacted by the chronic inflammatory conditions linked to modern diets.17

Eat like our ancestors. Eat Paleo.

 

REFERENCES

[1] Middendorp, S., and E. E. S. Nieuwenhuis. “NKT cells in mucosal immunity.”Mucosal immunology 2.5 (2009): 393-402.

[2] Chassaing, Benoit, et al. “Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome.” Nature 519.7541 (2015): 92-96.

[3] Colitis–Pathophysiology, Ulcerative. “Inflammatory bowel disease part I: ulcerative colitis–pathophysiology and conventional and alternative treatment options.” Alternative medicine review 8.3 (2003): 247-283.

[4] Eaden JA, Abrams KR, Mayberry JF. The risk of colorectal cancer in ulcerative colitis: a meta-analysis.Gut. 2001;48:526–535.

[5] O’Hara, Ann M., and Fergus Shanahan. “The gut flora as a forgotten organ.”EMBO reports 7.7 (2006): 688-693.

[6] Johansson, M. E. et al. The inner of the two Muc2 mucin-dependent mucus layers in colon is devoid of bacteria. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 15064–15069 (2008)

[7] Bäckhed, Fredrik, et al. “The gut microbiota as an environmental factor that regulates fat storage.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101.44 (2004): 15718-15723.

[8] Furet, Jean-Pierre, et al. “Differential Adaptation of Human Gut Microbiota to Bariatric Surgery–Induced Weight Loss Links With Metabolic and Low-Grade Inflammation Markers.” Diabetes 59.12 (2010): 3049-3057.

[9] Alberti, K. G. M. M., et al. “Harmonizing the Metabolic Syndrome A Joint Interim Statement of the International Diabetes Federation Task Force on Epidemiology and Prevention; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; American Heart Association; World Heart Federation; International Atherosclerosis Society; and International Association for the Study of Obesity.” Circulation 120.16 (2009): 1640-1645.

[10] Winter, Ruth. A consumer’s dictionary of food additives: Descriptions in plain English of more than 12,000 ingredients both harmful and desirable found in foods. Crown Archetype, 2009.

[11] Chassaing, Benoit, et al. “Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome.” Nature 519.7541 (2015): 92-96.

[12] Tobacman, Joanne K. “Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments.” Environmental health perspectives 109.10 (2001): 983.

[13] Watt, J., and R. Marcus. “Harmful effects of carrageenan fed to animals.”Cancer detection and prevention 4.1-4 (1980): 129-134.

[14] Swidsinski, Alexander, et al. “Bacterial overgrowth and inflammation of small intestine after carboxymethylcellulose ingestion in genetically susceptible mice.”Inflammatory bowel diseases 15.3 (2009): 359-364.

[15] Roberts, C. L. et al. Translocation of Crohn’s disease Escherichia coli across M-cells: contrasting effects of soluble plant fibres and emulsifiers. Gut 59, 1331–1339 (2010)

[16] Tobacman, Joanne K. “Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments.” Environmental health perspectives 109.10 (2001): 983.

[17] Spreadbury, Ian. “Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity.” Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity: targets and therapy 5 (2012): 175.

About Stephanie Vuolo

Stephanie VuoloStephanie Vuolo is a Certified Nutritional Therapist, an American College of Sports Medicine Personal Trainer, and a Certified CrossFit Level 1 Coach. She has a B.A. in Communications from Villanova University. She is a former contributor to Discovery Communications/TLC Blog, Parentables.

Stephanie lives in Seattle, WA, where she is a passionate and enthusiastic advocate for how diet and lifestyle can contribute to overall wellness and longevity. She has been raising her young daughter on the Paleo Diet since birth. You can visit her website at www.primarilypaleo.com.

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“2” Comments

  1. I see you mention soy lecithin in the article. I am curious about organic sunflower lecithin if it would have the same negative effects. We do have IBD that runs in the family and colon cancer, so would love any feedback. TIA

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