Learning To Surrender Control

Nanotechnology: Big Risks in Tiny Things

by Gwendolyn Marshall

If your toothpaste or pastry icing looks whiter, they could be using titanium dioxide (TiO2). The whiter than white pigment is deceptively pure. In small nanoparticle sizes, it's a risk to human health. France is the first country to prohibit the use of food additive E171, a colorant containing titanium dioxide nanoparticles.

Nanotechnologies are becoming pervasive in more of our products and lives. More health and safety risks, however, are being reported by pharmacovigilance consulting companies. By identifying the risks of nano-enabled products early, regulatory changes can be anticipated and high research and development costs avoided.

1. Nanotechnology's Risks

Many pharmaceutical and food products currently being sold use titanium dioxide. The colorant makes gum, candies, pills, and other products whiter. The consumer identifies bright whites with higher product safety and efficaciousness. O the contrary, this fine powder is a carcinogen, which could be dangerous when inhaled. 

2. The Many Benefits of Nanotechnology 

Nanotechnology regulation is a work in progress. Owing to the many benefits of nanotechnologies, its use in our everyday products will continue to grow. Nanotechnology enhances products in many ways, including improved:

  • efficacy and release of nutrients, agrochemicals, and other substances. 
  • antibacterial properties 
  • mechanical and thermal performance
  • food safety and shelf life 
  • color, texture, taste, etc.

Yet the withdrawal of products with titanium dioxide shows how the science of nanotechnology health and safety is lagging.

3. Big Health Risks in Small Things

A key frontier of nanoparticle research is particle size. Most food additives use 100 nanometers (nm) in diameter. Titanium dioxide, however, uses particles under 100 nm. The toxicological effects of these smaller particles are less well understood. 

Research has found the smaller particles could be more bioactive and more thoroughly absorbed by the body's tissues, lungs, and digestive system. TiO2, for instance, has been shown to disrupt gut bacteria and cause inflammation of the colon.

4. Pharmacovigilant Companies 

Many companies, however, have already stopped using titanium dioxide in their products. With the expectation that other countries will follow France's lead, these companies have saved on substantial costs in product research, development, and recalls. What's the difference between those companies that withdrew and those that proceeded to use the whitener? Pharmacovigilance. Pharmacovigilance consulting evaluates the health and safety, and future regulatory risks of a product.

As more is learned about the risks of nanotechnologies and more pharmaceutical and food products with nano-enabled ingredients enter the market, more thorough due diligence is required before introducing products. Contact a pharmacovigilance consulting company to learn more.