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Toulouse researchers show that titanium dioxide (E171) is a toxic additive that is transmitted to the fetus


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After demonstrating the toxicity of E171 (titanium dioxide) on rats, Toulouse researchers have shown that this additive crosses the placental barrier. It is found in cosmetic products. It has been banned since January 1, 2020 in food.

Without necessarily knowing it, you cross the E171. These titanium dioxide nanoparticles are an additive used for its coloring (white pigment) and opacifying properties in sunscreens, medicines, toothpastes and, more recently, in food products.

In 2017, two Toxalim research teams under the direction of Eric Houdeau, research director at INRAE ​​in Toulouse, demonstrated the toxicity of this product in rats. The researchers noted the appearance of precancerous cells in the animal’s colon after 100 days of oral exposure to these titanium dioxide nanoparticles.

Results not directly transposable to humans, but which gave sufficient warning signals for the national agency for food safety, environment and work (ANSES) to decide to suspend as a precautionary principle the use of this additive, from 1 January 2020 on the foodstuffs market.

“Evaluate the risk of exposure to pregnant women”

Since then, a new step has been taken by Toulouse researchers (1), with work published on October 7 in the journal Particle and Fiber. Working for the first time on human tissue, they showed that E171 crosses the placental barrier; and they warn of the importance of therefore assessing the risk in the face of proven exposure of pregnant women.

In Toulouse, within the Toxalim unit, teams are working on the toxicity of additives such as E171.

In Toulouse, within the Toxalim unit, teams are working on the toxicity of additives such as E171.

“We assayed, in 22 placentas recovered from voluntary mothers, the total content of titanium accumulated in this organ throughout pregnancy and we noticed the strong accumulation of titanium dioxide in the form of nanoparticles”, describes Eric. Houdeau.

As the sources of exposure to E171 are varied (food, cosmetics), the researchers also infused these same placentas on the maternal side with E171 to check whether food could be a source of contamination. They then assayed the titanium on the fetal side of the placenta. Verdict: Titanium dioxide passes from the maternal compartment to the fetal compartment.

Titanium nanoparticles found in babies’ first stools

The second part of the study studied the exposure of the newborn in utero, from the same analyzes carried out on samples of meconium (the first stools) from babies born to different mothers.

“Here again, nanoparticles were found in 50% of the meconiums, which means that the placenta does not protect the fetus and that the nanoparticles cross the placental barrier,” explains Eric Houdeau. Work is continuing for the next four years with new funding from ANR.

(1) ENTeRisk team from the Toxalim unit of INRAE ​​Toulouse, in collaboration with the national metrology and testing laboratory, the Physics of Materials group (CNRS, INSA Rouen / University of Rouen Normandy), the Toulouse University Hospital , the University of Picardy Jules Verne and the National Veterinary School of Toulouse.


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