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Are nanoparticles in consumer products increasing your cancer risk?

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009


The field of nanotechnology is exploding, and many materials, such as titanium (Ti), are being shrunk and used in consumer products like sun tan lotions, cosmetics, and toothpaste.

It has been traditionally thought that inert materials like Ti won’t cause health issues because they don’t react with molecules in our cells.  New research from UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center published in Cancer Research suggests that this conventional wisdom may be flawed.

Ti appears to migrate throughout the body, causing DNA/chromosome breakage and inflammation (both of which are linked to cancer) and oxidative stress causing cell death.  Rather than chemically reacting with molecules in cells, the high surface area of the tiny particles appears to cause cell molecules to change.

The manufacture of TiO2 nanoparticles is a huge industry, Schiestl said, with production at about two million tons per year. In addition to paint, cosmetics, sunscreen and vitamins, the nanoparticles can be found in toothpaste, food colorants, nutritional supplements and hundreds of other personal care products.

Once in the system, the TiO2 nanoparticles accumulate in different organs because the body has no way to eliminate them. And because they are so small, they can go everywhere in the body, even through cells, and may interfere with sub-cellular mechanisms.

Photo credit: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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