Could your TOOTHPASTE give you type 2 diabetes? Common white colouring could lead to the condition

A common chemical which turns things like food, medicines, toothpastes and paper white could cause type 2 diabetes, a study has found.

Titanium dioxide is widely used in food and cosmetics for its brilliant white properties, but scientists found it crystallises in the pancreas of diabetics.

The small study by the University of Texas suggests people without diabetes do not have the chemical in the body, which could point to a groundbreaking link between the condition and everyday objects.

Titanium dioxide began to be widely used in the mid-1900s to replace toxic lead-based colourings in household items like paint and plastics.

Scientists say since the 1960s, around four million tonnes of the chemical have been produced each year and, since the 1970s, cases of type 2 diabetes have quadrupled.

One expert said the use of the white colouring ‘could be a factor in the type 2 diabetes epidemic.’ 

Titanium dioxide is a brilliant white colouring which is commonly used in foods, toothpaste, cosmetics, medicines, paint and paper

Titanium dioxide is widely used in tiny particles which enter the bloodstream if they are breathed in or digested in food or drink.

It has a brilliant white colour which is used to add pigment to common items around the world including toothpaste, plastic, makeup, paper, paint, pills, food and suncream.

The chemical is not thought to naturally occur inside the human body, so traces of it come from particles from outside.

Now, the scientists in Austin, Texas, say there are crystallised particles of the chemical in the pancreases of people with type 2 diabetes, but not in those without the condition.

They suggest the particles may damage the pancreas by provoking an immune response from white blood cells, causing inflammation and which kills healthy cells in the organ. 

Type 2 diabetes is described as an ‘epidemic’ by one of the researchers. 

More than 3.5 million people in the UK, and over 422 million worldwide, have diabetes, and 90 per cent of them have type 2.

The condition is caused by insulin – a hormone which is made by the pancreas – either not being used properly by the body or not being made in large enough quantities.

This means the body cannot regulate blood sugar levels properly, which increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, blindness and kidney failure. 

The buildup of titanium dioxide exclusively in the pancreases of people with type 2 diabetes suggests a link between the two.

How the research was done 


Titanium dioxide is a fine white powdered form of the metal element titanium.

The chemical is not thought to occur naturally inside the human body.

It is commonly used around the world because it is brilliant white and can be used to colour a huge range of objects. 

Everyday items which are likely to contain titanium dioxide as a colourant include toothpaste, suncream, makeup – in which it is used to brighten the skin, plastics, paper, wall paint, ink and white medicine pills.

The US Food and Drug Administration says the chemical is safe to use, and that consumers’ risk of exposure to high levels is low.

Researchers say the chemical may enter the human bloodstream if it is inhaled or eaten.


To discover this link researchers studied pancreas specimens from 11 people to look for evidence of titanium dioxide.

Eight of the pancreases were from people who had type 2 diabetes and three were from those who did not.

All eight of the diabetic pancreases contained crystallised particles of titanium dioxide, but none of the non-diabetic ones did.

The research ruled out the effects of a person’s age and Body Mass Index (BMI) – their height to weight ratio – which are both known to affect diabetes risk. 

Having or not having diabetes was the only thing which changed whether or not participants had titanium dioxide in their pancreas, even if they were the same age or had the same BMI.

The scientists say they have already begun a study on more people to test their theory that eating or breathing in titanium dioxide could contribute to diabetes. 

Titanium dioxide may damage the body in a similar way to asbestos

The research was led by Dr Adam Heller, a diabetes expert and part of a team which invented the first ever painless blood-glucose testing system – a device which scans the body instead of drawing blood.

Dr Heller suggests titanium dioxide particles could cause diabetes in a similar way to how asbestos particles cause lung disease – by damaging healthy body tissue.

Dr Heller said: ‘Our initial findings raise the possibility that type 2 diabetes could be a chronic crystal-associated inflammatory disease of the pancreas, similar to chronic crystal-caused inflammatory diseases of the lung such as silicosis and asbestosis.’

Other factors like people living longer, not doing enough exercise and soaring levels of obesity are all known to contribute to diabetes.

This could be a factor in the type 2 diabetes epidemic 

However, the researchers are keen to find out whether this commonly used chemical could be causing the preventable condition in otherwise healthy people.

As titanium dioxide production has boomed since the 1960s, the percentage of the world’s population with type 2 diabetes nearly doubled from 4.7 per cent in 1980 to  8.5 per cent in 2014, according to the World Health Organisation.

‘The increased use of titanium dioxide over the last five decades could be a factor in the type 2 diabetes epidemic,’ Dr Heller said. 

‘The dominant pancreatic particles [associated with type 2 diabetes] consist of titanium dioxide crystals, which are used as a colorant in foods, medications and indoor wall paint, and they are transported to the pancreas in the bloodstream. 

‘The study raises the possibility that humanity’s increasing use of titanium dioxide pigment accounts for part of the global increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes.

‘We have already begun a broader study. Our work isn’t over yet.’        

The teams findings were published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.