Safety is and always will be the number one priority of members of the International Food Additives Council (IFAC). The food ingredients IFAC members produce have been determined to be safe by regulatory authorities and are consumed by billions of people every day around the world. As a result, IFAC is working diligently to understand the implications on human populations of the findings of research, including a 2015 study by Chassaing et al., which has examined how food ingredients interact with GI microbiota. Potential effects of dietary constituents on the human microbiome is a complex and emerging area of study, but an important one for further research given the emerging evidence and the importance of the microbiome on human health.
However, IFAC has very serious concerns about the validity of broadly extrapolating the results observed by Chassaing et al. in mice to human populations. Based on IFAC’s review of the research, there is no cause for concern at this time that CMC, P80 or other emulsifiers are unsafe for human consumption or should be removed from products. IFAC is committed to fully investigating this subject, but current understanding of the safety of CMC, P80 and other emulsifiers do not substantiate claims that Chassaing et. al. make on the effects observed in mice and whether the findings in the study have any relevance in humans or that the substances studied in mice have similar impacts when consumed by humans in food. Without more scientific substantiation of the Chassaing et al. results, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that all of these materials remain safe and consumers and users should feel confident using and consuming them.
In February 2015, the Journal Nature published a study, “Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome” by Chassaing et. al, in which the authors allege that carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) and/or polysorbate-80 (P80) may negatively impact gut microbes and are the cause of several adverse health impacts in humans, including inflammation of the gut and symptoms associated with colitis, metabolic syndrome, and other chronic inflammatory diseases.
In the study, mice were fed water and feed supplemented with CMC or P80. Through analysis of feces and gastrointestinal (GI) tissue, the researchers found that CMC and P80 altered the composition of the microbiota in both the feces and intestines of the mice adversely impacted the mucosal layers of the mouse intestinal lumen. Based on the results, the researchers extrapolated their observations in mice to suggest the possibility that dietary emulsifiers “may have contributed to the post-mid-twentieth century increase in incidence of inflammatory bowel disease, metabolic syndrome, and perhaps other chronic inflammatory diseases.”
A number of media outlets reported on these allegations stemming from broad extrapolations simplifying the complex study to claim that the research demonstrates a link between human consumption of CMC, P80 and, in some cases, all emulsifiers and negative GI health outcomes, obesity, diabetes and other inflammation related diseases.