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Nanoparticles in products can significantly alter normal gut microbiome

Nanoparticles in cosmetics

Nanoparticles, it’s the new buzzword that cosmetics and even consumer “anti-aging” products use to promote their brand. As the word suggests, nanoparticles are small and it shouldn’t be too surprising that these nanoparticles are causing problems in nature because of their prevalence. In that light, it might not be a surprise that there could also be some serious health issues associated with these nanoparticles.

Researchers found that exposure of a model human colon to metal oxide nanoparticles, at levels that could be present in foods, consumer goods, or treated drinking water, led to multiple, measurable differences in the normal microbial community that inhabits the human gut.

The changes observed in microbial metabolism and the gut microenvironment with exposure to nanoparticles could have implications for overall human health, and the new paper discusses these possible health issues. The researchers individually introduced three different nanoparticles–zinc oxide, cerium dioxide, and titanium dioxide–commonly used in products such as toothpastes, cosmetics, sunscreens, coatings, and paints, into a model of the human colon. The model colon mimics the normal gut environment and contains the microorganisms typically present in the human microbiome.

This new discovery could help explain the lack of diversity seen in the modern day microbiome, which is one of the many theories to explain the rise in obesity.  It is hard to imagine, in our antibiotic and antibacterial world, that there are bacteria are good for us to have and in some cases need to survive. Moreover, reducing the diversity of these bacteria is not just a problem for an individual, a large portion of the microbiome we are born with, come from our parents. This means you are passing on this reduced microbiome to future generations who are then also subsequently exposed to these nanoparticles.

In the article, the researchers described changes in both specific characteristics of the microbial community and of the gut microenvironment after exposure to the nanoparticles.

“This article points to some potential consequences of using nanoparticles in common consumer products,” says Domenico Grasso, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Engineering Science and Provost, University of Delaware.

It’s important to notice that this isn’t an organic food vs. GMO food debate. This is a worldwide — these nanoparticles are everywhere — issue. There is no, “what is going to happen if we keep doing this for X number of years” discussion to be had. If anything the discussion is more along the lines of, “Well this is out there, now what are the repercussions” kind of discussion.

In reality — no matter the results of further studies — these nanoparticles are not only here, they are here to stay, at least for the near future.

Taylor, A., Marcus, I., Guysi, R., & Walker, S. (2015). Metal Oxide Nanoparticles Induce Minimal Phenotypic Changes in a Model Colon Gut Microbiota Environmental Engineering Science DOI: 10.1089/ees.2014.0518

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