Study Shows High Intake of Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Risk of Heart Attacks and Strokes
A new study published in the journal BMJ reveals that consuming high amounts of certain ingredients found in ultra-processed foods (UPFs) is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. French researchers conducting the study suggest that these findings should prompt a reevaluation of food industry regulations to better protect consumers.
The researchers focused on the health effects of emulsifiers commonly used in packaged foods like ice cream, margarine, and prepared meals. Some scientists believe that these emulsifiers may alter gut bacteria and cause inflammation, which in turn increases the risk of heart problems.
The study involved 95,442 French adults without a history of heart disease. Over a period of seven years, participants recorded their daily food intake, which was then matched with specific brand names to determine the presence and amount of emulsifiers. Participants also reported any incidents of heart attack or stroke during the study.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that higher intake of certain emulsifiers was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Specifically, the cellulose emulsifiers E460 to E468, used to improve food texture and thickness, were found to be linked to cardiovascular disease. The acidity regulator E339 and binding factor E472c also showed similar associations. Additionally, the emulsifier E472b, used as a flavoring agent in baked goods and cakes, was found to increase the risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease.
Limitations and Future Research
The researchers acknowledged that their study, being observational in nature, cannot establish a cause-and-effect relationship. They emphasized the need for replications of the study’s findings in other large-scale studies. More research is required to fully understand the relationship between emulsifiers and cardiovascular disease.
Nutritionist Tracey Parker from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) commented that studies of this kind consistently show a link between high intake of certain emulsifiers and cardiovascular disease. However, she stressed the importance of further research to gain a comprehensive understanding of this relationship.
Dr. Gavin Stewart, a Senior Lecturer in Evidence Synthesis at Newcastle University, cautioned that while the study indicates a potential effect, careful interpretation is necessary. He emphasized the need for more research and evidence synthesis to reduce uncertainty.
This study aligns with two other studies presented at the European Society of Cardiology conference. The first study, conducted by the University of Sydney, found that middle-aged women who consumed the highest amounts of ultra-processed foods had a 39% higher chance of developing high blood pressure compared to those who consumed the least amount. The second study, conducted by researchers at the Fourth Military Medical University in China, revealed that consuming the maximum amount of ultra-processed foods increased the participants’ risk of heart attack, stroke, or angina by nearly 25%.