Small isn’t always beautiful!


A new study called Characterization of Nanomaterials in Metal Colloid-Containing Dietary Supplement Drinks and Assessment of Their Potential Interactions after Ingestion1 is highlighting the increasing use of nano particles in our foods and cosmetic chain, and the impact potentially they are having on the gut as well as highlighting the lack of research that is surrounding them in regards to human and aquatic health.

The use of nano materials is on the increase, being introduced according to the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars at 3-4 per week2. We are seeing it in liposomal encapsulation of supplements, food packaging is using it to increase it’s strength, and antimicrobial capacity, the manufacturers are using it to reduce oxidation, for anti-caking, and it’s even being used with children’s toys. They are also to be found in a wide range of highly processed foods. But not a lot of research is being done into the human impacts of this introduction of nano technology into our food chain and the inevitable excreting of it into our water sewerage system.

Naturally when they are in our food chain we eat them, we are breathing them in, our foods are surrounded in packaging containing them, and they are coming in contact with us in a variety of ways if they are in cosmetic products. There is a concern also that it will inevitably be excreted and into our sewerage systems, and about the capacity to remove these nanomaterials to prevent harm, but also this piece of research in particular showed that the supplement drinks that they tested which were using nano materials were affecting the microvilli of the gastrointestinal tract. In this research, the microvilli was being disordered as well as the number of microvilli in the gastrointestinal tract were being affected.

Now as the research says, these drinks are a small area where the technology is being used, but it is showing further research needs to be carried out, because gut health is incredibly important for our overall health and wellbeing. There is research showing how poor gastrointestinal functioning and dysbiosis is linked with a significant amount of health issues, and in particular autoimmune disease which is also linked in another piece of research by Trinity College Dublin3. This research showed the impact that the nanomaterials were having on amino acids, and the body’s ability to use them, effectively modifying them so they no longer functioned effectively and would then lead to the body’s own immune system attacking itself. Worrying to say the least because something so small has the ability to permeate membranes in the body that would normally keep particles out, and research shows that particles of 300nm are passing through the cell membrane, and interacting in the biological system.

There has been refining of foods for years now and with refining mostly we know about it with grains, and the smaller the particle gets, the more the surface area increases and becomes greater than the volume, which gives a larger surface area for reactions to happen. Also the absorption rate depends on the size, and this can mean a higher absorption with these nanomaterials can happen than would normally happen. The effect of such a small particle can be significant for its size, and in many respects is unknown.

These supplemental drinks were found to include metal nanomaterials, and what is more concerning is that manufacturer’s using these materials don’t have to label that they are doing so in the USA, in the EU it’s different labelling has to happen is my understanding. But this lack of labelling in some countries doesn’t allow you to make a choice about how to avoid ingesting them whilst you are travelling, because you really wouldn’t know if it’s in the cosmetics you are using, the packaging around your food, or even the food you are eating! It’s looking a bit like GMO’s being allowed into our food chain, slowly but surely they are creeping in because of the lack of understanding around them. We know that our manufactured food industry has a massive influence on government policy, and will continue to do so, and they will continue to use foods that entice you to eat more, are cheap to produce, ever extending the shelf life to aid storage, and are not made with your health in mind. In the UK organic standards mean that the use of nanomaterials are prohibited, but we know that companies are doing their best to erode these standards all the time. If you need to eat packaged processed foods, make sure you are reading and understanding the labels, so you know what you are ingesting. Think carefully about the chopping board you are buying with silver embedded into it.

Look for these as nanoscale on your food packaging, supplements, chopping boards and food containers:

  • titanium dioxide – shown in research that it can damage DNA
  • silica
  • zinc
  • zinc oxide – found to cause lesions on the liver, pancreas, heart and stomach
  • silver – exposure caused Zebra fish embryo’s to develop health abnormalities.

If your food is being marketed as healthy with reduced fat or calorie content, then definitely read the label it’s likely to have lots of ingredients in it which are far from healthy never mind nano orientated.

Edible coatings, yes you read that right, are being used in the USA and Canada which are to extend shelf life. If your foods not going off, then start to become suspicious about it!


  1. Robert B. Reed *†, James J. Faust ‡, Yu Yang †, Kyle Doudrick †, David G. Capco ‡, Kiril Hristovski §, and Paul Westerhoff †. (2014).Characterization of Nanomaterials in Metal Colloid-Containing Dietary Supplement Drinks and Assessment of Their Potential Interactions after Ingestion. Available: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/sc500108m. Last accessed July 2014.
  2. Ian Illuminato (2014). Tiny Ingredients, Big Risks.Nano Materials Rapidly Entering Food and Farming. London: Friends of the Earth. P1-43.
  3. Bashir M Mohamed‡, Navin K Verma‡, Anthony M Davies, Aoife McGowan, Kieran Crosbie-Staunton, Adriele Prina-Mello, Dermot Kelleher, Catherine H Botting, Corey P Causey, Paul R Thompson, Ger JM Pruijn, . (2012). Citrullination of proteins: a common post-translational modification pathway induced by different nanoparticles in vitro and in vivo. Available: http://www.futuremedicine.com/doi/abs/10.2217/nnm.11.177. Last accessed July 2014.


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