At one-billionth of a meter, nanotechnology begins. At this size, nanoparticles cannot be seen with the naked eye and are even invisible to common microscopes. This does not mean that nanoparticles are irrelevant in the physical world. In fact, new research suggests that nanoparticles in food, medicine and body care products cause cellular damage in the human intestinal tract. Over time, these slight particles also pass back into the environment, into sewage waters, ultimately affecting aquatic life.
Nanoparticles possess different chemical properties than their larger-sized counterparts
As an emerging technology, nanoparticles are created and manipulated by scientists on a scale measured in nanometers.
According to the FDA, these nanomaterials can possess entirely different chemical, physical or biological properties when compared to the same material at a larger, conventional size. Just because a material is safe at one-millionth of a meter doesn't mean it is safe at the nanoscale.
Lead researcher Robert Reed, from Arizona State University, pointed out that food and drink manufacturers are beginning to use nanoparticles to stabilize food packaging and help ward off potential microbes. The particles are also used as temperature control, allowing set amounts of air to flow in and out of packaging. In body care products, the particles can alter the look and feel of cosmetics. As food and drink additives, nanoparticles can be used to prevent bacterial growth, deliver nutrients or prevent caking. They are even involved in flavor science. As more companies use the nanoparticles, concerns have risen over their health and environmental effects as seen over time.
Nanoparticles in dietary supplement drinks destroy microvilli of human intestinal cells
Reed's team took a closer look, examining eight commercial dietary supplement drinks known for containing nano-size metal particles. Using dynamic light scattering and transmission electron microscopy, the nanometals were confirmed at an average diameter below 50 nm. The nanoparticles were processed in the lab in vitro in a cell system that mimics human intestinal cells.
The American Chemical Society recently published the new study in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.
Reed's team found out that the drinks eliminated the number of microvilli on cells. Drinks without nanoparticles were used as controls; they did not cause a reduction in microvilli. Microvilli are finger-like projections on intestinal cells that help humans digest food. The more the intestines were exposed to the metal nanoparticles, the more the microvilli decreased. According to the researchers, this could lead to poor digestion or diarrhea.
In a separate analysis, the researchers documented these particles in accumulating in sewage water. As the particles infiltrate surface water, they have the potential to cause health problems to aquatic life, even after they have been passed through the human intestinal tract.
Pharmaceutical companies use nanoparticles for a variety of purposes
Meanwhile, the FDA reports that they will maintain "a product-focused and science-based regulatory policy to appropriately regulate products using this emerging technology." This means that some nanoparticles will be considered safe to use for future purposes and others may not.
Nanoparticles are quickly becoming popular in pharmaceutical drugs and flavor science.
A company called Abraxis Oncology has invented an injectable medicine called Abraxane, which is paclitaxel -- a chemotherapy drug -- bound to nanoparticulate albumin proteins to deliver the formula in the body.
Another developer, Advanced Magnetics, manufactures super paramagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles for use in pharmaceutical products.
Advanced Censor Technologies has developed "a variety of miniature, sensor-based biotechnology devices for research and medical applications."
Some companies, like Blue Pacific Flavors, are using nanoparticles to manipulate the taste buds on the human tongue!
Much research is yet to be done on the safety of nanoparticles and their affect on cells in the human body.
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