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FDA wants more safety studies on nanoparticles in food and cosmetics

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By David Liu, PHD

Friday April 20, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- The Food and drug Administration released today April 20, 2012 two documents to address its concern about the safety of nanoparticles used in food and cosmetics.

Without approval by the FDA, food manufacturers and cosmetics manufacturers have been using nanoparticles in their products for a number of years. 

The FDA now encourages, but it does not seem to be a mandate yet, food and cosmetics makers to conduct more safety tests to demonstrate to the agency that use of nanoparticles is actually safe.  Usually, premarketing tests are not required, but for whatever reason, the FDA now requires safety for nanoparticles used in food and cosmetics.

Nanoparticles such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide are commonly used in soaps and sunscreens.  Nanoparticles are used in foods like confectionary products, cheeses, and sauces to make foods look brighter, or whiter.  Titanium oxide and silica dioxide are two most commonly used in food.  Nanoparticles may also be used in dietary supplements such as silica dioxide.

Nanoparticles have not thoroughly been tested for their safety before they are used in food and cosmetics.

The FDA did not explain why nanoparticles should be a concern.   It just said nanotechnology is new and more knowledge is needed to determine whether using nanoparticles is safe.

Recently, studies have shown that nanoparticles of certain sizes, which can be smaller enough to get into individual cells, but large enough to disrupt DNA, causing genomic instability or mutagenesis or carcinogenesis.

It has been known that nanoparticles in soap and sunscreens may enter skin cells and transport to other remote issue and cells causing unrepairable DNA and other damage.  Ingested nanoparticles can accumulate in major organs like the liver.

Nanoparticles are often oxides such as iron oxide, titanium oxide, aluminum oxide, cerium oxide, sillica dioxide and zinc dioxide.  Silica dioxide, when used in dietary, toothpaste and other products, may be simply named as silica.

Nanoparticles can also pollute the environment.  Nanoparticles released into the environment can be picked by plants and animals and then humans eat plant and animal foods, nanoparticles can eventually build up in human bodies causing health problems.

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