French researchers have made a groundbreaking discovery linking nitrites found in food to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Nitrates and nitrites are compounds found naturally in soil, water and certain foods, but they are also commonly used in the food industry as additives. They are known to be effective anti-microbial agents against pathogens such as salmonella and clostridium, and also improve the appearance and taste of food. Nearly all of our exposure to nitrites comes from processed meats and other food items.

The safety of adding nitrites to food has been a subject of debate among scientists. Last year, ANSES confirmed a link between nitrites and colorectal cancer. The new study, published in PLOS Medicine on January 17th, is led by French researchers from various organizations including Inserm and Inrae. The research concludes that people who consumed a high amount of total nitrites, from food and other sources, saw their risk of developing type 2 diabetes increase by 27%. This is the first time that a direct association between nitrites and diabetes has been highlighted, shedding new light on the role of diet and lifestyle in the development of this chronic disease.

Nitrate, nitrite: what are the differences?

In a groundbreaking study, French researchers from Inserm have discovered a direct association between nitrites found in food additives and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is the first large-scale cohort study to suggest such an association, according to lead researchers Bernard Srour and Mathilde Touvier.

The study used data from the NutriNet-Santé project, which began in 2009 and is ongoing. Participants in the project voluntarily register on the internet and answer a detailed questionnaire about their medical history, socio-economic status, diet, lifestyle and health problems. From this information, the scientists estimated the exposure to nitrites and nitrates of 104,168 people followed between 2009 and 2021. They then developed a statistical model to analyze the association between nitrite exposure and the onset of type 2 diabetes.

The results showed that people most exposed to total nitrites, either as a food additive or from other sources, had a 27% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The risk was even higher, at 53%, when considering only nitrites used as additives. No significant association was found between nitrates and the risk of type 2 diabetes. This research highlights the importance of understanding the role of food additives in the development of chronic diseases, and provides new insight into the link between diet and type 2 diabetes.

Results to be Confirmed

French researchers from Inserm have discovered a direct association between nitrites found in food additives and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The study, led by Bernard Srour and Mathilde Touvier, is the first large-scale cohort study to suggest such an association. The researchers used data from the NutriNet-Santé project, which began in 2009 and is ongoing, to estimate the nitrite exposure of 104,168 participants. The study found that people most exposed to total nitrites, either as a food additive or from other sources, had a 27% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

These findings provide new evidence in the ongoing debate about the need to reduce the use of nitrite additives in processed meats by the food industry and support the need for better regulation of soil contamination by fertilizers. Several public health authorities around the world are already recommending that citizens limit their consumption of foods containing controversial additives, including sodium nitrite.

It’s important to note that these conclusions still need to be validated by additional studies, as the cohort of the NutriNet-Santé project, which is primarily young and female, does not fully represent the general population. However, this research brings a new argument in favor of limiting the use of nitrites by food professionals.