French government has ordered an investigation on a food additive that is used in toothpastes and chewing gums to see if it possesses health risk to humans, after it was found to have caused precancerous lesions in rats. The additive Titanium dioxide, called E171 in Europe and the United States, was given to laboratory rats in their drinking water for 100 days by researches in France’s National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA). It was found that the additive could cause serious damages, including cancer.
E171, used for whitening is a common ingredient in many pharmaceutical products. Apart from being used in toothpastes, it can also be found in cookies, chewing gum, chocolate products and other food supplements. The study results show “for the first time that E171 crosses the intestinal barrier in animals and reaches other parts of the body.”
INRA researchers conceded: “These conclusions cannot yet be extrapolated to man. Minister for Health (France) has asked the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health (ANSES) to determine whether the food additive E171 poses a danger to consumers. The results should be known at the end of March.
A risk assessment has already been carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) for occupational exposure by inhalation to titanium dioxide. It led to the classification in group 2B, that is to say “possible carcinogen for humans”.
Concerned with oral exposure, particularly in children, INRA researchers exposed rats to E171 at a dose of 10 mg per kilogram of body weight per day. This is close to human food exposure. They have thus shown in vivo that the titanium dioxide is absorbed by the intestine and passes into the bloodstream.