Randomized Controlled-Feeding Study of Dietary Emulsifier Carboxymethylcellulose Reveals Detrimental Impacts on the Gut Microbiota and Metabolome

Gastroenterology. 2021 Nov 11;S0016-5085(21)03728-8. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2021.11.006. Online ahead of print.


Background & aims: Epidemiologic and murine studies suggest that dietary emulsifiers promote development of diseases associated with microbiota dysbiosis. Although the detrimental impact of these compounds on the intestinal microbiota and intestinal health have been demonstrated in animal and in vitro models, impact of these food additives in healthy humans remains poorly characterized.

Methods: To examine this notion in humans, we performed a double-blind controlled-feeding study of the ubiquitous synthetic emulsifier carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) in which healthy adults consumed only emulsifier-free diets (n = 9) or an identical diet enriched with 15 g per day of CMC (n = 7) for 11 days.

Results: Relative to control subjects, CMC consumption modestly increased postprandial abdominal discomfort and perturbed gut microbiota composition in a way that reduced its diversity. Moreover, CMC-fed subjects exhibited changes in the fecal metabolome, particularly reductions in short-chain fatty acids and free amino acids. Furthermore, we identified 2 subjects consuming CMC who exhibited increased microbiota encroachment into the normally sterile inner mucus layer, a central feature of gut inflammation, as well as stark alterations in microbiota composition.

Conclusions: These results support the notion that the broad use of CMC in processed foods may be contributing to increased prevalence of an array of chronic inflammatory diseases by altering the gut microbiome and metabolome (ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT03440229).

Keywords: Emulsifier; Metabolism; Metabolome; Microbiota.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03440229