(HealthDay News) — Emulsifiers used to improve food texture and to extend shelf life might increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and metabolic syndrome, according to experimental research. The study was published online February 25 in Nature.

In experiments with mice, researchers found that emulsifiers can alter the make-up of bacteria populations in the digestive tract. This can lead to inflammation that may contribute to the development of IBD and metabolic syndrome, the researchers said.

Study coauthor Benoit Chassaing, PhD, of the Institute for Biomedical Sciences in Atlanta, said in a Georgia State University news release: “The dramatic increase in these diseases has occurred despite consistent human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor.” Chassaing further explained that “food interacts intimately with the microbiota [of the digestive tract] so we considered what modern additions to the food supply might possibly make gut bacteria more pro-inflammatory.”

“A key feature of these modern plagues is alteration of the gut microbiota in a manner that promotes inflammation,” study coauthor Andrew Gewirtz, PhD, from the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University, said in the news release. “We do not disagree with the commonly held assumption that overeating is a central cause of obesity and metabolic syndrome,” Gewirtz said. “Rather, our findings reinforce the concept suggested by earlier work that low-grade inflammation resulting from an altered microbiota can be an underlying cause of excess eating.”

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