The Australian Medical Association Limited and state AMA entities comply with the Privacy Act 1988. Please refer to the AMA Privacy Policy to understand our commitment to you and information on how we store and protect your data.



03 Feb 2017

A French study has found that an additive commonly used in some sweetened foods can bring on the early stages of cancer – at least in animals.

It has only been found to initiate cancers in tested laboratory animals, but in an article published in the science journal Nature those results were shown to be somewhat of a surprise to the researchers.

The French National Institute for Agricultural Research found that titanium dioxide or E171, which is used by the food industry to brighten foods like lollies, biscuits, chewing gum and sauces, can cause cell damage.

Researchers exposed rats to doses of titanium dioxide for 100 days in quantities similar to what humans might consume through their diets.

They found that nanoparticles of titanium dioxide were absorbed by the intestine and passed into the bloodstream of the animals tested.

This was only after oral consumption. The additive is also used in some sunscreens and cosmetics, but external application was not part of the research.

The test showed that chronic oral exposure to E171 led to a non-malignant stage of carcinogenesis in 40 per cent of the exposed rats.

That is the early stage of the process of normal cells turning into cancer cells.

The French government has asked its public health agency to determine consumer risks, with a report due next month.

Some French food processors have already signalled their intentions to remove titanium dioxide nanoparticles from their products.

In this country, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand published a review last year into the oral ingestion of titanium dioxide stating there was no strong evidence to support claims of a significant health risk.

But FSANZ is aware of the latest French study and is now reviewing the research’s findings.

It has stressed that the new study must be considered alongside all other available evidence.

Chris Johnson




Published: 03 Feb 2017