History of the issue
Titanium dioxide or E171 additive is used in the manufacture of tablets, confectionery and bakery products, chewing gum and other food products. Europe bans its use in food on the basis of a statement by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that the food additive can no longer be considered safe. The main reason for this conclusion was that the organization could not rule out that the titanium dioxide particles may have genotoxicity. The EFSA has not claimed the substance is genotoxic, but has been unable to establish a safe daily limit in this regard.
Genotoxicity is the ability of substances to damage DNA. A possible consequence of exposure to genotoxic agents is the development of cancer.
In its decisions, EFSA relied on data from various studies, most recently it also turned to work on nanoparticles of titanium dioxide. In France, E171 was banned in food back in 2019. The European ban will not affect the pharmaceutical industry in order to prevent drug shortages.
Following the May statements from EFSA, the head of Rospotrebnadzor Anna Popova ordered to check the safety of titanium dioxide. An examination conducted in 2019 recognized that this supplement can be used. This substance has only been found to be hazardous in nanoform.
E171 is carcinogenic?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) considers titanium dioxide to be a group 2B carcinogen, which means it is possible that it can cause cancer, but there is no sufficient evidence yet. But we are only talking about inhaling this substance in powder form. The agency reached this conclusion based on animal studies. It does not currently insist that E171 is hazardous in the form of a dietary supplement. The FDA also recognizes it as a safe food coloring.
The IARC currently recommends limiting exposure to inhaled titanium dioxide (eg dust) in workplaces.
What Happens to Titanium Dioxide When We Swallow It
Today, the danger of titanium dioxide is associated with its particles with a diameter of less than 100 nanometers, that is, with nanoparticles. Some laboratory studies have shown that they can be absorbed by intestinal cells with the further possibility of their cancerous degeneration. However, these findings are not supported by all studies.
It is important to point out that the food industry uses more titanium dioxide in larger particles. They are poorly absorbed in the intestines and are not dangerous.
Is titanium dioxide deposited in organs?
In 2016, the EFSA published a review which stated that titanium dioxide is very poorly absorbed and excreted in feces with almost no loss. At the same time, the organization said that there was no evidence of genotoxicity and carcinogenicity. However, later it turned out that about 0.01% of the dye retains intestinal immune cells in its lymphoid tissues. Hypothetically, titanium dioxide can “get” to other organs. However, how this may affect health is unknown.
Another EFSA concern is that there is a suspicion that titanium dioxide could potentially be neurotoxic and cause inflammation.
In some animal studies, scientists have found E171 deposits in the liver, kidneys, and spleen of laboratory animals. However, in such experiments, very high concentrations of the substance were used, which are not used in food. Whether such an effect is possible in humans is currently unknown.
There are many studies devoted to titanium dioxide, most of them have not found harmful effects. However, there have been very few long-term studies in humans among them. Thus, today there is practically no serious evidence of the danger of this colorant when used in food. But his research continues.