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Potential risks of nanoparticles in drink products

Nanoparticles – that is, materials between 1 and 100 nanometres in size – have recently started to be used as ingredients in a wide variety of consumer products including foods, supplements, personal care products and packaging. They are being used so widely due to useful properties such as the ability to deliver nutrients or minimise bacterial growth; however, as nanoparticles are still relatively new materials, little is known about their potential impact on the human body and the environment as a whole in the long-term.
A recent in vitro study published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering by researchers at Arizona State University attempted to address one aspect of this lack of data by investigating the effects of eight drinks containing metal nanoparticles on human intestinal cells. Cells that had been exposed to the nanoparticles (concentration 3.5 μg/mL) in the laboratory were observed to have a decreased number of microvilli (finger-like protrusions that serve a crucial role in the absorption into the bloodstream of nutrients from the gut), compared to controls, and the organisation of these microvilli was also disturbed. If this effect is seen within the human body as a result of drinking these products, it could lead to digestive problems in consumers.
The researchers also investigated whether such nanoparticles enter the environment via sewage by performing screening tests in wastewater treatment plants, concluding that this was likely, and that there was a potential negative impact on aquatic life.

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