Excipients alter Nutrient Absorption

Did you know that Canadians consume >1012 particles per day of titanium dioxide (TiO2) and mixed silicates (Martirosyan, A et al, 2014). Nanoparticles are approved by Health Canada as food coatings and colour additives. TiO2 is found in processed foods, medications and nutritional supplements. No regulatory approval is required before launching products containing nanoparticles (Powell, et al, 2010). Several studies have shown that TiO2 reduces intestinal absorption of essential nutrients iron, zinc and fatty acids.

Study Question

The gastrointestinal tract is where essential nutrients are absorbed. Does the ingestion of TiO2 alter intestinal cell physiology and/or morphology? Do these changes account for the reduction in absorption of essential nutrients in the presence of TiO2?

Study Particulars

Intestinal cells (that are responsible for absorbing drugs and nutrients) and goblet-like cells (produce mucous to protect the intestinal cells) were tested together. The cells were exposed to TiO2 for 5 days (chronic exposure).

Limits of this Study

An in vitro study.

What Was Already Known

In 2012, Mahler et al showed that chickens fed TiO2 had a significantly reduced absorption and transfer of iron into their circulation.

What These Studies Add

Exposure to TiO2 (doses similar to human exposure) reduces the absorption of nutrients like Fe, Zn and fatty acids by:

  1. Reducing the available surface area for absorption by decreasing the number of intestinal microvilli
  2. Reducing the enzyme activity of the intestinal cells
  3. Increasing inflammation at the intestinal cell wall by 5-7 fold


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Guo, Z., Martucci, N.J., Moreno-Olivas, F., Tako, E., and Mahler, G.J. (2017) Titanium dioxide nanoparticle ingestion alters nutrient absorption in an in vitro model of the small intestine. NanoImpact 5: 70-82.

Hot Topic Small Talk – Volume 2, Number 3