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New Study Links Low Nutrient Absorption to Food Packaging

Researchers from Binghamton University revealed that Zinc Oxide in food packaging could be negatively affecting the functioning of digestive tract.

A research led by Gretchen Mahler, associate professor of bioengineering of Binghamton University, and with collaboration of State University at New York revealed that zinc oxide (ZnO) in food packaging could be negatively affecting the functioning of digestive tract. ZnO nanoparticles possess antimicrobial properties and prevent staining of sulfur-producing foods. These nanoparticles are present in the lining of certain canned goods and small traces of the particles end up in the intestine and alter the functioning of the digestive track and affects the way the intestine absorbs nutrients. The researchers examined canned corn, tuna, asparagus and chicken using mass spectrometry to estimate the amount of ZnO that is transferred to the food. It was revealed that the food contained 100 times the daily dietary allowance of zinc. Previous research reported that high doses of zinc causes cell death due to its toxicity.

The researchers found that ZnO settles onto the gastrointestinal tract cells and lead to remodeling or loss of the microvilli that are tiny projections on the surface of the intestinal absorptive cells. These microvilli are responsible for increase in the surface area available for absorption and its loss causes decrease in the nutrient absorption ability of the digestive track.  Moreover, some of the ZnO nanoparticles cause pro-inflammatory signaling at high doses, which in turn increases the permeability of the intestinal model. An increase in intestinal permeability enables various other compounds to pass through into the bloodstream. The researchers stated that further study is necessary to learn the widespread effects of ZnO on human health comparing their results from a cell culture model. Moreover, animal models after nanoparticle ingestion revealed similar results and it was found that the microbial population in the animal gut bacteria are adversely affected. The research published in the journal Food & Function was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.