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Nanoparticles could have a ‘big impact’ on our long-term health

March 14th, 2012
by Tania

Nanoparticle gridResearchers in America have found that nanoparticles can have an influence on nutrient absorption, which could be having an effect on our long-term health.

Researchers at Binghamton University and Cornell University recently published a paper in the journal of Nature Nanotechnology, finding that the tiny particles, even in low doses, could have a big impact on our long-term health. Up until now, research has primarily been based on the direct health effects of nanoparticles, but this research has filled in an obvious gap, by looking at the effects of constant exposure in small doses, which could happen when you're taking a drug or supplement of some sort.

Lead author of the article, Gretchen Mahler, assistant professor of bioengineering at Binghamton University said: "We thought that the best way to measure the more subtle effects of this kind of intake was to monitor the reaction of intestinal cells."

"And we did this in two ways, in vitro, through human intestinal-lining cells that we had cultured in the lab; and in vivo, through the intestinal linings of live chickens. Both sets of results pointed to the same thing, that exposure to nanoparticles influences the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream."

Iron was of particular interest in the study, chiefly because of the way it is absorbed and processed through the intestines. The researchers used polystyrene nanoparticles to test for this because of its easily traceable fluorescent properties. They found that there was a clear relationship between nanoparticles and iron uptake and transport.

Chronic exposure causes a remodelling of the intestinal villi, making them larger and broader, thus allowing iron to enter the bloodstream much faster.  The villi are essential to the intestine's ability to absorb nutrients, which is where the link was found between nanoparticles and nutrient absorption.

The next step for Mahler and the team is to take a look at whether similar disruptions in nutrient absorption could be possible in other inorganic elements such as calcium, copper and zinc.

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