FRANCE – An increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes has been connected to the use of nitrites and nitrates, according to a new study that was published in the peer-reviewed weekly medical journal PLOS Medicine.

Nitrites and nitrates are substances that occur naturally in food and water. They are also used as food additives to increase shelf life.

Food nitrates and nitrites have drawn attention recently because of potential health risks, notably in France, the location of the current study.

Although it has been shown that some nitrosamines, which are produced from nitrates, nitrites, and other proteins, are genotoxic and carcinogenic, it is unknown if nitrosamine synthesis contributes to metabolic dysfunction and the development of type 2 diabetes.

Previous research has revealed that the production of nitrosamines may negatively affect the pancreatic cell and insulin/insulin-like growth factor signaling pathways, thereby contributing to the development of insulin resistance and associated metabolic diseases.

Researchers examined data from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort study, which includes medical, sociodemographic, diet, lifestyle, and health information that was self-reported by 104,168 adults between 2009 and 2021, to investigate the connection between nitrites and nitrates in food and the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The results of the analysis showed that participants had a higher risk of type 2 diabetes if they reported consuming more nitrites overall, particularly nitrates from food additives.

Furthermore, the study offered no proof that dietary nitrites and nitrates have any possible health benefits.

The researchers urge that their work be replicated in different populations even though no causal relationship can be shown from the current observational study.

In light of current discussions regarding restricting the use of nitrites as food additives, the latest findings offer fresh information.

Last year, following a risk assessment by the French Agency for Food which linked nitrites to cancer, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (Anses), France set out to ban its use in food.

The move follows a French parliament bill in February aiming to gradually reduce the use of nitrites in cured meats which called on the government to act based on the outcome of the Anses review.

Anses confirmed a 2018 World Health Organisation (WHO) report linking nitrates and nitrites ingested through processed meat to colorectal cancer.

The two substances are also suspected to be linked to other cancers such as ovarian, kidney, pancreas, and breast, Anses said, and hence advised cutting nitrates and nitrites to a minimum.

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