The French government on Friday ordered an inquiry on a food additive used in chewing gums, biscuits, and sauces to determine if it poses a health risk to humans after a study found it caused precancerous lesions in lab animals.

Titanium Dioxide Whitens And Brightens Food And Other Consumer Products

The additive titanium dioxide also called E171 in Europe and the United States is an inert and insoluble material used by the food industry to whiten and brighten food products. It is also used as a whitener in paper, paint, plastics, and cosmetic products such as toothpaste and sunscreen.

Triggers Normal Cells To Become Cancer Cells

A new study conducted by the French National Institute for Agricultural Research has found evidence that intestines absorb titanium dioxide nanoparticles and pass these into the animals' bloodstream following oral exposure.

For the study, which was published in Scientific Reports, the researchers exposed rats to doses of the additive for a period of 100 days. The animals received quantities of titanium dioxide that reflect the amount humans are exposed to through food consumption.

The findings revealed that chronic oral exposure to the substance led to non-malignant state of carcinogenesis, which happens when normal cells become cancer cells. Researchers observed this in 40 percent of the exposed animals.

"In rats orally exposed for one week to E171 at human relevant levels, titanium was detected in the immune cells of Peyer's patches (PP) as observed with the TiO2-NP model NM-105," study researcher Laurence Guzylack-Piriou, from Université de Toulouse, and colleagues wrote in the study, which was published in June last year.

Investigation Needed To Assess Risks Posed By Consumption Of Titanium Dioxide

Based on their findings, the researchers called for investigations on the risks posed by the food additive on humans.

"These data should be considered for risk assessments of the susceptibility to Th17-driven autoimmune diseases and to colorectal cancer in humans exposed to TiO2 from dietary sources."

Backs Up Earlier Concerns About Use Of Titanium Dioxide In Food Products

Jeremy Tager, from the environmental group Friends of the Earth said that the findings of the study validated earlier concerns about titanium dioxide being widely used in food products.

"Our view has been there is still a large degree of uncertainty, and we feel food shouldn't be going onto the market until its properly tested and that's not happening," Tager said.

Dunkin Donuts Dropped Use Of Titanium Dioxide

Other health risks have also been associated with consumption of the food additive. In 2015, Dunkin Donuts announced that it will no longer use titanium dioxide in its powdered sugar donuts in response to pressure from public interest group As You Sow that argued the substance, which makes powdered sugar appear brighter, is not safe for human consumption.

The group claims that consumption of titanium dioxide can cause DNA and chromosomal damage.

Other food additives such as emulsifying agents are also known to pose health risks such as increased likelihood of inflammatory bowel disease and obesity.

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