A new study raises fears that eating processed food could lead to bowel cancer.
According to the research, common additives used in processed food cause changes to bacteria within the gut, which allows cancerous tumours to grow.
The latest research has been carried out in mice to look at whether food additives known as E numbers, or emulsifiers, can cause alterations in the gut which can then lead to bowel cancer.
Mice were divided into three different groups during the research. While two were given E numbers, the third group only had water. The mice were also given other inflammation and cancer causing toxins.
Scientists concluded that mice given the E numbers suffered from a greater number of cancerous tumours, and the growths were also bigger than those in the control group.
They believe that the additives change the natural balance of the bacteria in the body, breaking down its protection against cancer.
However, while the research conclusions are clearly concerning, just because the results were shown in mice, it does not automatically mean that the same would hold true in people. The mice were also given bigger doses of E-numbers for their body weight than people would consume in their diet.
The mice involved in the research were fed emulsifiers for 13 weeks as part of their diet.
While previous research has linked bowel cancer to eating high quantities of fat and processed meat such as sausages or bacon, further study would be required to fully understand any link with E numbers to the disease.
All additives added to food must currently undergo rigorous testing and safety assessments before they can be used for human consumption.
Professor Sanders from Kings College London said the mice were fed the E numbers at a level of 1%, described as: “a very high intake of the food additives compared to what might be found in human diets”.
He added: “We can’t assume this study is applicable to humans, so it shouldn’t be cause for concern.”
Emulsifiers are commonly used in a whole range of foods because they stop separation and give food extra body and texture.
This latest study is not conclusive, it is hoped it could be an important first step in better understanding the effect of emulsifiers on the body and may eventually lead to improvements in food standards and health.