ISLAMABAD: Titanium dioxide nanoparticles, which are increasingly used in food products as well as in cosmetics and some medicines, might increase inflammation of the digestive system, new research suggests.

An elevated concern might arise for patients living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or colitis, which typically takes two forms: Crohn's disease, which is more common in women, and ulcerative colitis, which is more common in men.

Recently, researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland have looked at what happens when the digestive system absorbs nanoparticles of titanium dioxide. Their findings suggest that foods containing titanium dioxide could be particularly harmful for patients with IBD.

The scientists focused their efforts on the NLRP3 inflammasome, which is a protein complex released by the non-specific immune system to flag up potential threats. When activated, the NLRP3 inflammasome triggers inflammation as a way of counteracting the perceived hazard.

In this study, Dr. Rogler and his colleagues first used cell cultures, before moving on to mice to study the effect of titanium dioxide nanoparticles.

The researchers also noted that patients with forms of IBD absorb a significant amount of titanium dioxide in their bloodstream because their intestinal barrier is damaged.

"This shows that [titanium dioxide] particles can be absorbed from food under certain disease conditions," says Dr. Rogler.

When determining mice to ingest titanium dioxide nanoparticles, the scientists observed once more that the NLRP3 complex was activated, causing severe inflammation of the intestines and damage to the intestinal barrier. Crystals of titanium dioxide also accumulated in the mice's spleens, the researchers noted.

The findings, so far, led Dr. Rogler and his colleagues to suggest that titanium dioxide nanoparticles might be especially harmful to patients diagnosed with a form of IBD.

This being the case, any foods containing such nanoparticles should, in the future, be avoided where the condition is concerned.

"Based on our results, patients with an intestinal barrier dysfunction as found in colitis should abstain from foods containing titanium dioxide," emphasizes Dr. Rogler.