Researchers who found a link between food additive nitrites and type 2 diabetes risk say their study provides “new evidence” in support of reducing the use of nitrites in things like processed meat.

While nitrites and nitrates are found naturally in water and soil, they are also used by food manufacturers to increase shelf life.

A research team analysed data from just over 104,000 participants in the French NutriNet-Santé study, which launched in 2009 and collects medical history, lifestyle and diet information from people aged 15 and over.

The team then applied data around exposure to nitrites/nitrates to produce statistical models in order to examine health outcomes.

Their key finding was that those exposed to a higher rate of nitrites overall, particularly via food additives, and other non-additives sources, had a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D).

This link was not found between nitrates and type 2 diabetes, while the team said their results did not support using dietary nitrites or nitrates as a potential benefit to protect against type 2 diabetes.

The authors said: “These results provide a new piece of evidence in the context of current discussions regarding the need for a reduction of nitrite additives’ use in processed meats by the food industry, and could support the need for better regulation of soil contamination by fertilisers.

“In the meantime, several public health authorities worldwide already recommend citizens to limit their consumption of foods containing controversial additives, including sodium nitrite.

“This is the first largescale cohort study to suggest a direct association between additives-originated nitrites and type 2 diabetes risk. It also corroborates previously suggested associations between total dietary nitrites and T2D risk.”

The authors said their study had several limitations and that more research is needed to back up their results.

The study, by Bernard Srour of the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team (EREN-CRESS) of Inserm, INRAE, Cnam, and Sorbonne Paris Nord University, Bobigny, France and colleagues, has been published in PLOS Medicine.

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