The Killers Lurking Inside Your Food

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104695015Nanomaterials are all the rage now when it comes to food manufacturing. What are nanoparticles and why is the food industry so heavily invested in them? Nanoparticles are extremely small and possess properties that their larger counterparts don’t have. Basically, they have a large surface area compared to their size and weight. This makes them ideal for certain tasks that require their absorption into other materials like food or even the human body.

Silver nanoparticles—to cite one example—are used by the food industry as a pesticide because they can quickly travel through a food and destroy harmful organisms. Nanoparticles are also being used to ferry drugs into the body—in particular, delivering cancer therapies to specific, targeted areas.

Some red flags are being raised about the use of nanoparticles, however. No one is sure what effects these nanoparticles may have when absorbed in large numbers. Nanoparticles seem capable of travelling anywhere due to their diminutive size. Once in the body, they can enter the lungs, digestive tract and other organs. When quantities of these particles build up sufficiently, scientists fear there may be adverse health effects.

Recently, a team of researchers looked at the effects of gold nanoparticles (used for drug delivery) on the heart. In this animal study, rats were given a dose of gold nanoparticles (GNPs) and then run through a series of tests. Compared to controls, the rats with the GNPs exhibited some pretty alarming changes in the functioning of their hearts. The researchers noted that the GNPs caused weakness in the heart muscle and congested and dilated blood vessels. These changes weren’t seen in any of the rats who acted as the control. The research team concluded that GNPs caused these disturbances in the heart in relation to their size: the smaller they were, the more pronounced the adverse effects.

Studies such as this one are being conducted with increasing frequency. The potentially toxic, adverse effects of nanoparticles are finally being looked at now that the thrill of the discovery of nanomedicine is wearing off slightly.

This more cautious take on nanoparticles that are meant for absorption in the human body has prompted one team of scientists to develop a tool. This measuring tool can predict the number of silver particles that may be showing up in our produce and other food products. The scientists are from the University of Missouri-Columbia and they estimate that more than 1,000 food products now contain various amounts of nanoparticles.

To determine the possible toxic effects of silver nanoparticles (SNPs), the scientists studied pears that had been doused with a typical SNP pesticide application. Four days after rinsing the pears, the SNPs were still present on the pear skin, while the smaller particles had travelled inside the pear to the pulp.

The research team hopes that the method they developed to determine the concentration of SNPs in the pears can be used to keep tabs on nanoparticles in other foods. By knowing how many nanoparticles are ingested with the foods we eat, scientists will be able to determine “safe” levels. Eventually, food manufacturers and farmers will have to abide by government-regulated nanoparticle levels.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
“Scientists develop new way to detect threatening nanoparticles in food,” Medical News Today web site, Aug. 26, 2013;, last accessed Aug. 26, 2013.
Abdelhalim, M.A., et al., “Gold nanoparticles administration induces disarray of heart muscle, hemorrhagic, chronic inflammatory cells infiltrated by small lymphocytes, cytoplasmic vacuolization and congested and dilated blood vessels,” Lipids Health Dis. Dec 9, 2011; 10: 233.
Dixon, D., “Toxic Nanoparticles Might be Entering Human Food Supply, MU Study Finds,” University of Missouri News Bureau web site; Aug. 22, 2013,, last accessed Aug. 26, 2013.