Does it feel like you’re always dealing with stomach issues? The constant swelling and soreness can feel downright demoralizing. No matter how careful you are, or how hard you try, inflammation can flare up and leave you uncomfortable. While we know our diets can be part of the cause, it’s hard to know which exact foods to avoid when we want to tame chronic gut inflammation. But a new study might offer more insight into why certain foods — like ice cream, some soups, and drinks — cause it.
Inflammation is the body’s natural way of fighting infections. When an outside danger enters our system, it’s flushed with these inflammatory cells until the threat is neutralized. But this can sometimes go wrong. Chronic inflammation happens when your body reacts as if it needs to fight an infection, and send inflammatory cells to the area even though there is no danger. People who struggle with chronic inflammation are often in pain — and are at risk of developing more serious diseases, like cancer.
Doctors have long connected diet with chronic gut inflammation flare-ups, but a new study goes a bit further in identifying a specific (and common!) food additive called carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) as a possible cause. CMC, also referred to as “cellulose gum,” is used as a thickening substance, and is the second most-used thickener after xanthan gum. It’s found in almost every processed food, from ice cream and frozen yogurt to most sauces, some breads, and many dairy products.
Are processed foods to blame?
CMC was previously linked to inflammation in animals — researchers found that it changed the gut microbiome — and they wondered if the same was true for humans. They conducted a study on 11 people, and the results were similar. The participants were fed a controlled diet in an inpatient hospital environment, where some were given foods containing CMC, and others were given the same foods, but without the additive. At the end of the study, the group who consumed the CMC-laden foods showed significant changes in their gut bacteria.
Scientists concluded that CMC in processed foods might be contributing to increased symptoms of chronic inflammatory diseases by altering the gut microbiome. And since the surge of processed food has directly paralleled the increase of people battling chronic gut inflammation, it seems even likelier that there’s a connection.
If you suffer from chronic gut inflammation, it might be worth talking to your doctor about whether CMC could be playing a role — and whether trying a diet with less of the additive might ease your pain!