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Can Ice Cream Cause Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

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OK, so we all know that eating too much ice cream can cause weight gain. 

We also know that eating too much ice cream and other sugary foods can, over years, cause diabetes. 

But this is new...ice cream causing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

Let's explain...first, with a little anatomy lesson. 

Our intestinal tracts are loaded with bacteria. 

These bacteria play a very important role in both digestion and our overall health

When we disturb our gut bacteria by taking antibiotics, we often experience side effects such as diarrhea. 

This diarrhea is the direct result of the antibiotics killing the bacteria in our intestines. 

Fortunately, we usually take an antibiotic for a short period of time. 

Our guts recover, and the intestinal tract is back to normal.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an inflammation of the intestines. It is generally subdivided into Crohn's Disease (large intestine) and ulcerative colitis (small intestine). 

Both diseases are similar, and are treated similarly. 

In some cases, surgical removal of portions of the intestines is required. 

Ice Cream?

So what is the link between ice cream and IBD?

A paper was published last week in the prestigious journal, Nature. 

In this paper, the authors hypothesized that emulsifiers, such as carboxymethyl cellulose and polysorbate-80, cause low-grade inflammation in the intestines. 

Carboxymethyl cellulose, or CMC, is prepared by a simple reaction between cellulose (from wood pulp) and chloroacetic acid.

After purification, CMC is used to increase the thickness of various foods and pharmaceuticals. 

Not only is it present in ice cream an salad dressings, it is also present in non-food products, like toothpaste, paints, detergents...just about anywhere where a thicker liquid is needed. 

The US FDA has made it clear that CMC is quite safe, especially since it is not absorbed. It is passed right through our stools. Consuming large amounts of CMC may have a laxative effect. 

Similarly, Polysorbate-80 is also a thickener used in ice cream and many other foods. Interestingly, polysorbate-80 plays an important role in making a smooth ice cream that resists melting. 

It is also found in mouthwash and other non-food items. 

And, like CMC, it is quite safe. 

Anyway, back to the Nature paper...

The authors fed mice other CMC or polysorbate-80 at doses which resembled those found in foods (like ice cream). 

What they found was that the mix of bacteria in the intestines of the mice changed...and changed in such a way as to make them more prone to inflammation. 

Critically, these altered bacterial pool had an easier time penetrating the protective lining of mucus that is in the intestinal tract which protects the cells in the gut from these bacteria. 

The net result...mice who were already prone to colitis developed disease. Healthy mice did not develop colitis, but did develop mild intestinal inflammation and early signs of obesity, hyperglycemia, and resistance to insulin. 


Yet, when you think about it, it makes sense. 

Chemicals like CMC and polysorbate-80 are emulsifiers; they are essentially soaps. 

Soaps will invariably "wash" both bacteria and the mucous in our guts. 

And that's asking for trouble. 

Now it should be noted that the mice were fed these emulsifiers every day. Our daily doses are likely to be much more variable. 

But over time, who knows what can happen? 

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