Emulsifiers in common foods erode your gut - Ayurveda | Everyday Ayurveda

Emulsifiers in common foods erode your gut

By on May 26, 2015

Lately I’ve been reporting on some of the new emerging trends in the world of our microbiome. The trend is suggesting that certain commonly used household products and foods – which have been deemed safe according to the FDA – actually have an adverse effect on the beneficial microbes that live on the inner and outer skin surfaces of the human body.

For example, recently I reported on a study that suggested that artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame and saccharine actually raise blood sugar. (1) Seemingly, this would be impossible, since each these all have zero calories and zero sugar. So, how could they raise blood sugar levels?

It turns out that these 3 commonly used zero-sugar, zero-calorie sweeteners have a deleterious effect on the microbes in the intestinal tract, and that these very same gut microbes that are damaged by artificial sweeteners are responsible for balancing our blood sugar levels! (1)

Commonly-Used Emulsifiers Found Guilty

You may recall a recent article where I reported on the research suggesting that the commonly used natural food additive and thickening agent/emulsifier, carrageenan, may cause serious irritation to the gut wall. The suggestion was that this may not only damage the intestinal wall, but compromise the function of many strains of beneficial microbes. While carrageenan has “made news” and has been strongly implicated in microbial damage, other commonly used emulsifiers have also been found guilty of wreaking havoc on our health. (4-6)

Emulsifiers are everywhere – they are used in processed foods, drugs, vitamins, vaccines, soaps, and cosmetics. Their function is to keep oils and water from separating. They are found in everyday products ranging from mouthwash to ice cream, salad dressing to barbecue sauce. (3)

A new study, published in Nature: The International Weekly Journal of Science, evaluated the effects of two commonly used emulsifiers on both the skin of the intestinal tract and the effect of these emulsifiers on the beneficial microbes. (2,7) The results were not pretty.

Mice were given two common emulsifiers, polysorbate-80 and carboxymethyl cellulose. Researchers noticed that the normal protective distance between the undesirable bacteria that sit on the surface of the mucus layer of the intestines and the actual skin or wall of the intestines was cut in half. (2)

The emulsifiers actually seemed to emulsify the protective mucus layer that lines the intestines. This allowed bacteria to press up against, adhere to, and irritate the intestinal wall. The good microbes that normally protect the intestines from such an invasion, called Bacteroidales, were significantly reduced and the bacterial species that break down mucus was shown to have increased. (2)

Furthermore, polysorbate-80 and carboxymethyl cellulose were found to encourage damaging cytokines that increase the permeability of the gut. This continued to alter the gut microbiome, rendering it more susceptible to a host of ailments. (2)

Researchers believe that constant low-grade irritation to the intestinal wall from these emulsifiers will ultimately disturb the microbiome, resulting in impaired blood sugar regulation and an increased susceptibility to weight gain. (2)


With this new research trending, it is becoming more and more clear that if you don’t recognize the name of an ingredient on a label, it may be something that the FDA recognizes as safe, but it may not be doing your microbes a favor. With the U.S. having the lowest levels of microbial diversity in the world, we should be doing everything we can to protect our shrinking microbiome.

Let’s be very conscious of what we choose to eat – our health depends on it!

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About Dr John Douillard

Dr. John Douillard, DC, CAP, is a globally recognized leader in the fields of natural health, Ayurveda, and sports medicine. He is the creator of LifeSpa.com, the leading Ayurvedic health and wellness resource on the web. LifeSpa.com is evolving the way Ayurveda is understood around the world, with over 700 articles and videos proving ancient wisdom with modern science. Dr. John is the former Director of Player Development for the New Jersey Nets NBA team, author of 6 books, a repeat guest on the Dr. Oz show, and featured in Woman’s World Magazine, Huffington Post, Yoga Journal and dozens of other publications. He directs LifeSpa, the 2013 Holistic Wellness Center of the year, in Boulder, CO. For more information visit www.lifespa.com.

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