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Titanium dioxide: present in many foods, it crosses the placental barrier

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The titanium dioxide nanoparticles present in the E171 food additive cross the placenta and reach the fetus, lament French researchers from Inrae, the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment.

Toothpastes, cosmetics, sunscreens, medicines, paints, some foods in the world. Although still present in many everyday products, titanium dioxide, called TiO2 or E171 in the food industry, is present in food products in many countries, where it is used as a colorant and opacifier. France has taken precautions, due to ignorance of its safety, and its use has been suspended since January 1, 2020, a one-year measure that can be renewed.

In a new study, published this October 7 in the journal Particle and Fiber Toxicology, a team of French researchers from the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae) provide an argument to renew this ban. According to their findings, E171 contains titanium dioxide nanoparticles that can cross the placental barrier and thus reach the fetus of a pregnant woman who would be exposed to it through food.

In previous work, these same researchers observed that this E171 could pass into the bloodstream and then accumulate in the liver or spleen. "After chronic exposure, a risk of initiation and promotion of early stages of colorectal carcinogenesis (early-stage colorectal cancer, as well as changes in immune responses, was observed," the team said in a news release. If this new study does not indicate in any way whether the presence of TiO2 nanoparticles harms the fetus, it is possible that this is the case, since other studies carried out in animals and related to non-food TiO2 nanoparticles had shown that these disturbed good fetal development.

Titanium dioxide on both sides of the placenta and in the stool of newborns

Here, the researchers collected 22 placentas from volunteer mothers after their pregnancy to determine the total titanium content accumulated during gestation. These tests showed an accumulation of TiO2 in the placenta, mostly in the form of nanoparticles, that is, very small molecules. A nanometer is in fact one millionth of a millimeter and a hair is about 70,000 nanometers in diameter.

But the fact that the placenta contains TiO2 does not mean that it reaches the fetus. To confirm this, the scientists conducted a second experiment: they perfused the placentas with E171 on the maternal side, and then analyzed the titanium on the fetal side of the placenta. And the TiO2 nanoparticles ended up on the side of the fetus.

The researchers also deplored the presence of titanium dioxide in 50% of the meconium samples tested, with meconium being the name given to the newborns first bowel movements.

The team clearly demonstrated that "titanium dioxide consumed in food during pregnancy passes as nanoparticles in the placenta and can contaminate the fetus." "These human data can be used by food safety agencies to assess the risk of exposure to E171 in pregnant women," the researchers concluded.

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