Two Sneaky Food Additives Linked to Colorectal Cancer

Before you take another sip of your milkshake or bite into that salad, you might want to know that common, everyday foods are being spiked with two food additives that are linked to obesity and colorectal cancer. And, they aren’t just found in fast foods—they’re also found in some so-called health foods.

I’m referring to two emulsifiers used by the food industry: carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate 80. The former is often referred to as cellulose gum while the latter is often shortened to polysorbate or called Tween 80. But no matter what you call these food additives, they’re harmful to your body and are best avoided.

According to research conducted by Dr. Emilie Viennois, assistant professor at the Georgia State University Institute for Biomedical Sciences, Atlanta, these emulsifiers alter microbes in the gut, which contributes to the risk for colorectal cancer. Says Dr. Viennois: “The incidence of colorectal cancer has been markedly increasing since the mid-20th century. A key feature of this disease is the presence of an altered intestinal microbiota that creates a favorable niche for (the development of tumors).”

Research by Dr. Viennois and her team found that even low concentrations of carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80 induced inflammation, obesity and metabolic syndrome in mice. Metabolic syndrome is a group of symptoms that includes high blood sugar, cholesterol, and homocysteine levels. In addition to these three markers, metabolic syndrome is characterized by abdominal fat and is often a precursor of over fifty health conditions, including heart disease and cancer.

(Editor’s note: Care2 does not endorse animal testing and believes there are viable alternatives to medical research that do not involve the testing or killing of animals.)

“So why does the food industry use them at all?” you may be wondering. Well, there’s no good reason to use either of these toxic ingredients, but the food industry would probably tell you that they thicken fast food shakes, stabilize salad dressings and make ice cream creamier. The reality is there are many wholesome ingredients that perform these functions, but they simply require a bit more care to create better quality and healthier foods. It would take minimal effort but few companies in the food industry seem to care enough to make the effort. Or, the extra penny or two it might cost them per serving provides a disincentive.

Earlier information published in the journal Nature found that these emulsifiers promote metabolic syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, low-grade inflammation, weight gain and the development of fatty deposits. The emulsifiers also altered healthy metabolic function, and altered the types of bacteria that colonized the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The same research also found that these emulsifiers eroded the mucous membrane that lines the gut. Upon investigation they observed that the food additives promoted the growth of harmful bacteria that digested the layer of protective mucous in the intestines, which may account for the inflammatory effects, since impaired gut health has been identified as a source of much body-wide inflammation.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies these food additives as generally-recognized as safe (GRAS), although almost all substances given this undeserved classification received it without any testing.

In the latter study researchers fed the animals a diet with 1 percent of either carboxymethylcellulose or polysorbate-80, which is the percentage of these food additives used in most prepared foods. In addition to milk shakes, salad dressings and ice cream, these ingredients are sometimes found in milk alternatives, cottage cheese and most packaged foods. Polysorbate 80 is often found in pharmaceutical drugs, intravenous compounds, vaccines, lotions and skincare products.

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Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the president of PureFood BC, an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty & Cooking.


Vincent T
Vincent T3 days ago

thank you

Vincent T
Vincent T3 days ago

thank you

Sarah H
Sarah Hill2 years ago


Larry McDaniel
Larry McDaniel2 years ago

Thank you

Elaine W.
Elaine W2 years ago

A warning to check labels.

Melanie St. Germaine

Good article!

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Patty L.
Patty L2 years ago


W. C.
W. C2 years ago

Thank you.