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“Nanoparticles” in Food Packaging May Be Blocking Nutrient Absorption


According to a study at Binghamton University in New York, tiny particles in food packaging could be adversely affecting your digestive functions. The discovery is the latest in a small body of research that raises concerns about the safety of this additive the food industry frequently uses.

“We found that zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles at doses that are relevant to what you might normally eat in a meal or a day can change the way that your intestine absorbs nutrients or your intestinal cell gene and protein expression,” said Gretchen Mahler, associate professor of bioengineering. The nanoparticles are found in the lining of some canned goods, she explained.

In the study, scientists examined canned tuna, chicken, corn and asparagus using mass spectrometry to determine the quantity of particles that might be transferred into the food. They found it contained 100 times the daily allowance of zinc. Next, Mahler evaluated the effect the particles had on the digestive tract.

Nanoparticles Changed the Surface of the Intestines

“People have looked at the effects of nanoparticles on intestinal cells before, but they tend to work with really high doses and look for obvious toxicity, like cell death,” said Mahler. “We are looking at cell function, which is a much more subtle effect, and looking at nanoparticle doses that are closer to what you might really be exposed to.”

“They tend to settle onto the cells representing the gastrointestinal tract and cause remodeling or loss of the microvilli, which are tiny projections on the surface of the intestinal absorptive cells that help to increase the surface area available for absorption,” said Mahler. “This loss of surface area tends to result in a decrease in nutrient absorption. Some of the nanoparticles also cause pro-inflammatory signaling at high doses, and this can increase the permeability of the intestinal model. An increase in intestinal permeability is not a good thing — it means that compounds that are not supposed to pass through into the bloodstream might be able to.”

The study was published in the journal Food and Function.

What Are Nanoparticles and Why Are They Cause for Concern?

Nanoparticles are metals broken up into extremely tiny particles that are between 1 and 100 nanometers in diameter. To get an idea how small this is, a human hair is 75,000 nanometers wide. Manufacturers put the particles in food, as well as food packaging because they provide a range of benefits such as thickening, coloring and keeping food fresh longer. The additive is found in many products, including yogurt, salad dressing, popcorn, pasta, mayonnaise and milk.

With the ever-increasing use of nanoparticles, scientists have become concerned about how they affect human health. Because of the particles’ small size, they can easily enter cells, tissues and organs of the body. According to the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE), they can harm the immune system and have long-term ill effects.

Research on nanoparticles in recent years shows they aren’t a safe food additive. In a 2005 study published in Environmental Science & Technology, ZnO nanoparticles were discovered to be toxic to human lung cells at low concentrations. Other investigations have shown silver nanoparticles killed brain and liver cells in rats.

FOE is advocating mandatory labeling of products containing nanoparticles, so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions. Until the government establishes labeling laws on these products, you can protect yourself by avoiding processed foods as much as possible.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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