The Dangers of ‘Frankenfood’ Fears

Microbiome research has exploded in recent years, making it the new darling of many scientific circles. Recently, researchers identified a possible link between alterations in mouse gut microbiota, and the ingestion of two very commonly used emulsifiers (food additives which help form homogenous blends out of ingredients which normally don’t like to mix together). Associated with this emulsifier-induced microbiome variation was the development of gut inflammation, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.

This means that additives that previously passed FDA testing and were approved for human consumption may end up, in the future, being associated with the rising tide of obesity and its related complications. MAYBE.

Sometimes we scoff at the wary, at the people seeking natural, organic, toxin-free chemical-free food that’s been hand-crafted by unicorns and fairies. Sometimes we scoff at the parents worrying what’s really in the commercial baby food their putting in their growing infants.

But sometimes these fears turn out to be legitimate.

Obviously, the emerging data regarding the link between emulsifier ingestion and obesity-related complications needs to be expanded and confirmed. So far it’s just a start, and it definitely hasn’t been investigated enough in humans. But – like cigarettes and cancer – if emulsifiers do turn out to be detrimental to our metabolic health, let’s just take it in stride, modify our processed goods, and learn from the experience.

It’s important to try to reign in knee-jerk reactions and anti-‘Big Food’ fears.

As Michael Specter eloquently said in his 2010 TED talk, “We’ve lost faith in institutions, in authority, and sometimes in science itself, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t have. You can just say a few names and people will understand. Chernobyl…the Challenger… weapons of mass destruction…”

We hate Big Pharma, but we leap into the arms of Big Placebo

But the mistrust of science is often standing in the way of our making this little rock of ours a better place. As Specter says, “Science isn’t a company… It’s a process, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But the idea that we should not let science do its job because we’re afraid, is really very deadening, and it’s preventing millions of people from prospering.”

So let’s take the recent emulsifier news in stride, keep investigating its possible link to disease, and not let it bring food science to a grinding halt.

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Lauren Wright

Globetrotting Aussie postdoc on the hunt for science, logic, and humanity. I research metabolism, mitochondria, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other weighty stuff.

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