Dietary exposure to nitrites linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes | Press room

In addition to their role in food preservation, nitrites and nitrates give ham and other deli products their pink color. © Adobe Stock

More More than 15,000 packaged products on the French market currently contain nitrites and/or nitrates. It is often used to ensure better preservation of processed meats (ham, sausages, etc.), but the safety of these food additives is a matter of debate. Nitrites and nitrates also occur naturally in various foods (especially vegetables) and drinking water, but their availability can be increased by agricultural and industrial practices.

Within the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Group (Eren-Cress), researchers from Inserm, INRAE, Sorbonne Paris Nord University, Paris Cité University and Cnam investigated the role of dietary nitrites/nitrates in the onset of type 2 diabetes. Health and nitrite/nitrate exposure data from 104,168 French adults participating in the NutriNet-Santé cohort study. Statistical analyzes show an association between nitrite consumption and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. However, no association was found between nitrate consumption and type 2 diabetes risk. The results are published PLoS Medicine.

Nitrites and nitrates are compounds naturally present in certain foods (especially vegetables), as well as in water and soil; agricultural and industrial practices may accentuate this phenomenon. Therefore, these compounds are found in our food.

Widely used as additives to increase the shelf life of certain foods such as deli meats, their antimicrobial role limits the growth of pathogenic bacteria that cause certain food infections. They also give a pink color to ham and other deli products. Currently, more than 15,000 packaged products on the French market contain added nitrites or nitrates.

However, some public health authorities have advocated restricting the use of nitrites and nitrates as food additives because of their potential impact on colorectal cancer risk.[1]. Previous experimental studies have already suggested a link between exposure to nitrites and nitrates and the appearance of metabolic dysfunctions, but epidemiological and clinical data are still inconclusive.

To deepen knowledge on the subject, a research team from Inserm, INRAE, Sorbonne Paris Nord University, Paris Cité University and Cnam consulted data collected from 104,168 participants in the NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. (see box below).

The volunteers provided the scientists with detailed information about their food consumption, providing complete records of their meals over repeated 24-hour periods, including product names and brands. This approach allowed the team to accurately estimate participants’ exposure to nitrate and nitrite supplements with high precision. In addition, this information was supplemented by monitoring data provided by health authorities, which provided information on the extent of exposure of volunteers to nitrites/nitrates of non-additive origin (via water and therefore soil) depending on their location in the area.

The scientists also obtained information about the medical history of the participants, their socio-demographic data, as well as their physical activity experience, lifestyle and health status. The participants studied here did not have type 2 diabetes at baseline and were followed between 2009 and 2021 to track the onset of the disease.

The researchers performed statistical analyzes to examine the association between nitrite/nitrate exposures (both as food additives and non-additives) and type 2 diabetes risk.

Participants with higher exposure to nitrites (especially from dietary supplements as well as “non-additive” sources) had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In this study, the risk increase was actually 27% for people who consumed the most total nitrites compared to those who consumed the least (a 53% increase for people consuming more nitrites than supplements and a 26% increase for nitrites). from other sources).

No association was found between nitrate exposure and risk of type 2 diabetes.

The results also showed no benefit of dietary nitrites or nitrates in preventing type 2 diabetes.

“This is the first large-scale cohort study to suggest an association between nitrite from additives and a potentially increased risk of type 2 diabetes. “explain Bernard Srour, postdoctoral researcher at Inserm, and Mathilde Touvier, director of research at Inserm, who piloted this study.

“These results provide new evidence in the context of the current debate about the need to reduce the use of nitrite additives in processed meats by the food industry, and may also support the need for better regulation of soil pollution from fertilizers. Meanwhile, several public health authorities around the world are already advising citizens to limit their consumption of foods containing controversial additives, including sodium nitrite.the two scholars conclude.

Research NutriNet-Health It is a public health study coordinated by the Nutrition Epidemiology Research Group of the Center for Epidemiology and Statistics Research (Eren-Cress, Inserm/INRAE/Cnam/Sorbonne Paris Nord University/Paris Cité University). More than 170,000 Nutrinautes develop research on the relationship between nutrition (diet, physical activity, nutritional status) and health. This research, started in 2009, has already led to more than 250 international scientific publications. A call for recruitment of new Nutrinautes is always announced continuing research on the relationship between nutrition and health.

By devoting a few minutes a month to answering on a secure platform via the Internet in various questionnaires on diet, physical activity and health, participants contribute to increasing knowledge about the relationship between diet and health.

[1] ANSES July 2022 report on the risks associated with the consumption of nitrites and nitrates.

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