Small isn't always beautiful!

A new study called 'Characterisation of Nanomaterials in Metal Colloid-Containing Dietary Supplement Drinks and Assessment of Their Potential Interactions after Ingestion [1]' is highlighting the increasing use of nano particles in our foods and cosmetic chain. It is also looking into the impact they are potentially 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 nanomaterials is on the increase, being introduced according to the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars at three to four per week [2]. We are seeing it in liposomal encapsulation of supplements, food packaging is using it to increase its strength and antimicrobial capacity, the manufacturers are using it to reduce oxidation for anti-caking, and it's even being used in children's toys. Nanomaterials are also 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 and the inevitable excreting of it into our water sewerage system.

Naturally when nanomaterials are in our food chain we eat them, we breathe them in, and our foods are surrounded in packaging containing them. Ultimately they are coming into contact with us in a variety of ways. There is also a concern that these nanomaterials will inevitably be excreted into our sewerage systems, and there might not be the capacity to remove them to prevent harm.

In addition, this piece of research in particular showed that the supplement drinks that they tested which were using nanomaterials were affecting the microvilli of the gastrointestinal tract. In this research, the microvilli was being disordered 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 further research needs to be carried out. Gut health is incredibly important for our overall health and well-being, and evidence suggests poor gastrointestinal functioning and dysbiosis is linked with a significant number of health issues - in particular autoimmune disease.

This is linked in with another piece of research by Trinity College Dublin [3]. A study showed the impact that nanomaterials were having on amino acids, and the body's ability to use them. The effect is a modification of the acids so they no longer functioned effectively which then leads to the body's own immune system attacking itself. This is worrying to say the least because of how something so small has the ability to permeate membranes in the body that would normally keep particles out. 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. 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. 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 them unless they are sold in the USA. In some European countries, the lack of labelling doesn't allow you to make a choice about how to avoid ingesting nonmaterials whilst you are travelling. You really have no idea if they are in the cosmetics you are using, the packaging around your food, or even the food you are eating!

It seems that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are 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. Manufacturer's will continue to sell foods that entice you to eat more and 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 as it's likely to have lots of ingredients in it which are far from healthy, nevermind nanomaterial orientated. Edible coatings are being used in the USA and Canada to extend shelf life. If your food is 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: 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: Last accessed July 2014.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Omagh, County Tyrone, BT78 5LU
Written by Deborah Walker
Omagh, County Tyrone, BT78 5LU

I run a practice that has for over 10 years predominantly been driven by referrals. Are you sick and tired of just not feeling quite right, do the blood tests say you are fine, but you just know that isn't true? Has everyone else told you either that you have to live with those symptoms, or that the...

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