E415. This is the name of the food additive, also known as “xanthan gum”, which is used for thickening foods in the food industry since the late 1960s. While it was thought that it did not affect the body, new research now shows that this food additive is capable of modifying our intestinal microbiota.
“We’re now starting to see long-term effects of xanthan gum that weren’t seen when it was introduced into the human diet.”, announced Sabina Leanti La Rosa, researcher at NMBU and co-author of the study. This work, carried out by a team of scientists from the Norwegian University for Life Sciences (NMBU), in collaboration with the University of Michigan and several other international partners, was published in the journal Natural microbiology.
E415: a food additive that disrupts the human intestinal microbiota
“We were surprised to see how well human gut bacteria have adapted to this additive since its introduction into the modern diet only fifty years ago,” said Sabina Leanti La Rosa. Indeed, scientists until now thought that xanthan gum did not affect the body because it was not able to digest it. However, this study now shows that it does indeed affect the bacteria in our intestinal microbiota. “The gut bacteria we studied show genetic changes and rapid adaptation to allow them to digest this particular additive.”, explains Professor Phil Pope.
This new ability to digest this food additive would be very common in people living in industrialized countries. At least two types of intestinal bacteria would be affected: the bacterium Bacteroides and another bacterium member of the family Ruminococcaceae.
Xanthan gum: what health risks?
The E415 additive is produced by the fermentation of sugar using bacteria Xanthomonas campestris. This process then creates a gelatinous liquid which is dried and turned into a powder, in order to be incorporated into food. “As with other erasers, gastrointestinal discomfort can be caused by heavy consumption or in combination with other gums (bloating, flatulence, laxative effect)”, specifies UFC-What to choose.
Through this new study, researchers discovered that gut bacteria are able to break down xanthan gum into constituent monosaccharides, which are then fermented to produce short-chain fatty acids that can be assimilated by the human body. However, “these fatty acids are known to provide up to 10% of calories to humans”, underlines the scientist Sabina Leanti La Rosa. This therefore suggests that the additive E415 could also increase a person’s calorie intake.
Nevertheless, further studies are now needed to understand the issues. “Based on this study, we cannot conclude if and how xanthan gum affects our health. But we can say that the additive affects the gut microbiota of people who consume it through food”, indicated the researcher, before concluding that “perhaps authorities should take this new knowledge into consideration when evaluating commonly used food additives”.
And for good reason, the E415 additive is found in many many everyday foods. To find it, just read the labels and look for “E415” or “xanthan gum” in the ingredients. Find out below the list of foods where you are most likely to find this thickener.
Food additive: carboxymethylcellulose already singled out
As a reminder, E415 is not the first food additive to prove dangerous for our intestinal microbiota. A clinical study published on November 2, 2021 in the journal Gastroenterology demonstrates that carboxymethylcellulose, a widely used food additive, is bad for your gut because it alters the composition of the gut microbiota as well as the presence of many small molecules (metabolome).
The researchers found that consumption of this food additive widely used in processed foods changed the composition of the bacteria present in the intestine by reducing certain species known to play a beneficial role in health. The microbiota of people who consumed this additive was disrupted. Moreover, stool samples from participants who consumed CMC showed a very strong decrease in many beneficial metabolites and believed to maintain a healthy colon. Its long-term consumption could even promote chronic inflammatory bowel disease in man.