Nanoparticles found in canned goods might be damaging your digestive tract
05/08/2018 // Edsel Cook // Views

If you eat a lot of commercial canned food, you might be causing serious damage to your gut. A landmark study warned that the contents of certain canned foods have been contaminated by zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles. These tiny particles could hurt the digestive tract, according to a ScienceDaily article.

Conducted by a research team from Binghamton University, the study was the first to look at the effect of ZnO nanoparticles on human health.

Zinc oxide is one of the materials used to make the lining of several cans. It extends the shelf life of canned foods by killing microorganisms that come into contact with it. It also stops sulfur-producing foods from staining the edible contents.

In high dosages, ZnO nanoparticles could affect the efficiency of the intestinal tract. According to Gretchen Mahler, an associate professor of bioengineering at Binghamton University, ZnO could reduce the amount of nutrients absorbed by the intestine or alter its cell DNA and proper function.

The researchers used mass spectrometers to measure the level of ZnO nanoparticle contamination in canned asparagus, chicken, corn, and tuna. They found that the canned food contained 100 times the amount of zinc that is considered safe to ingest. (Related: How to store meat long-term when living off-grid.)

Zinc oxide nanoparticles decrease nutrient absorption and cause leaky gut

Now aware of the presence of ZnO in canned foods, Mahler and her team investigated the specific effects of ZnO nanoparticles on the intestine. They created in vitro cultures of intestinal cells and subjected them to ZnO levels based on realistic consumption of canned goods.


The Binghamton University researchers reported that ZnO generally concentrates in the cells that make up the gastrointestinal tract. Large amounts of the nanoparticles can cause microvilli to shrink or even disappear from the intestine.

Microvilli are tiny structures found on the surface of the intestinal absorptive cells. They increase the surface area of the intestine, maximizing the amount of nutrients that can be absorbed from digested food. If the number or size of microvilli decrease, the nutrient absorption rate of the intestine will also drop.

Mahler reported that ZnO contamination reduced iron absorption by 75 percent and glucose absorption by 30 percent. The losses matched what the researchers predicted from changes in the gene expression of the nutrients' respective transporters.

Furthermore, high doses of the nanoparticles can also trigger intestinal inflammation. When the intestinal tract starts swelling, its permeability increases. Potentially toxic compounds and microorganisms that normally cannot enter the bloodstream will be able to do so via the leaky gut.

Nanoparticles may exert long-term effects on human health

Earlier studies have also investigated how nanoparticles can affect the intestine. However, those studies focused on extremely high dosages that could trigger cell death. The Binghamton University study is the first to look for subtler signs of toxicity that matched realistic intakes of canned goods.

Mahler says her team has not yet determined the long-term consequences of ZnO nanoparticles on human health. However, she adds that their findings have definitely shown it could affect the human body, specifically the gut.

In order to find out more about ZnO's effects on the intestine, her research team is currently building an animal model using chickens. They hope the findings of their follow-up experiment will shed more light on just how the food additive alters the microbiota found in the gut.

"We have seen that our cell culture results are similar to results found in animals and that the gut microbial populations are affected. Future work will focus on these food additive-gut microbiome interactions," reported Mahler.

Learn more about spotting and avoiding other dangerous products at

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