Nanoscale particles of anti-caking agent cause damage
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The additive Silicium dioxide E 551 is used as an anti-caking agent in dry food so that, for example, powdered soup or spices stay free-flowing. Silicium dioxide has been considered safe.
Now, however, scientists working with Professor Hanspeter Nägeli in Zurich have examined the synthetically produced nanopowder and discovered in laboratory experiments that the particles cause a change in cells in the mucosa of the gastrointestinal tract (dendritic cells). The team of researchers, who carried out the experiments as part of a Swiss research programme, said: “These cells are embedded in the mucosa of the gastrointestinal tract and maintain the immune response in our digestive system. They activate the immune system when germs occur that could make us ill and at the same time ensure that food components and harmless gut bacteria are tolerated by our body and don't create a defensive reaction.”
When these cells were brought into contact with nanoparticles of silicium dioxide, they began “to excrete an inflammation regulating signal molecule (Interleukin-1β).” The scientists deduced from this that these nanoparticles “can lead to an inflammatory reaction in the bowel. These discoveries indicate that the concentration of silicium dioxide nanoparticles in food additives should be reduced.” In their presentation of the research project the scientists say that the next step should be to confirm the results by conducting experiments with animals.
Usage in organic food
E551 is permitted for use in organic foods, although silicium dioxide only as a gel or colloidal solution and only for herbs and spices in powder form, flavouring and propolis. In practice, it is hardly ever used. Salts and spices in organic shops do not contain anti-caking agents. The farming associations Naturland, Bioland and Demeter recommend that their processors buy salt and spices without anti-caking agents and permit, if absolutely necessary, only calcium carbonate E 170.