What nanoparticles might be doing to you

Researchers have come to some disconcerting conclusions while investigating the health effects of nanoparticles at levels that could be present in foods, consumer goods, and treated drinking water.

Nanoparticles. They’re itty, they're bitty, they’re everywhere! While nanoparticle research is finding impressive applications for the teeny things in everything from biomedical and optical uses to electronics, we consumers are finding them everywhere in products running from socks to sunscreen.

With a wee diameter of 1 to 100 nanometers in size, many have been the concerns raised about their potential impact on health and the environment. Now a group of scientists have taken a look at what some kinds of nanoparticles can do to the human gut.

Alicia Taylor, Ian Marcus, Risa Guysi, and Sharon Walker, from the University of California, Riverside, introduced zinc oxide, cerium dioxide, and titanium dioxide nanoparticles into a model of the human colon. These three were chosen based on their potential for human exposures through their widespread use in many foods and consumer products – like toothpastes, cosmetics, sunscreens, coatings, and paints – and because of their potential to wind up in treated drinking water.

The faux colon they employed acts like the normal gut environment and contains the microorganisms typically present in the human microbiome. After introducing the nanoparticles, they found changes in both specific characteristics of the microbial community and of the gut microenvironment.

The gut has been gaining increasing attention lately as we discover how important a role its organisms play in functions indispensable to human health – things like vitamin production, digestion, and immune system activity. And in fact, the role of the gut microbiota is so important to our health that researchers have found links between gut microbes and numerous diseases. Meanwhile, changes in diet alone can inspire quick transformation in the activity and structure of the gut microbiota, revealing that the microbiota is super sensitive.

Overall, the nanoparticles caused significant changes to the microbial community's phenotype, which may be related to overall health effects, concludes the study. The complete study can be found here.

Tags: Health | Nanotechnology

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