Xanthan Gum - Food Additive Analysis
Xanthan gum is a popular food additive produced by the fermentation process from bacteria known as Xanthomonas Camestris. It is commonly used in gluten-free baking due to the elasticity it provides to doughs and batters. Although it is said to be safe for human consumption because of its largely indigestible nature in humans, a more careful look at the research and some common sense shows us that there are potential issues associated with its ingestion, and caution is recommended.
If you're ingesting foods with xanthan gum on a regular basis there are some possible side effects that you should be aware of. Two of the main issues include bloating and gas with consumption of normal amounts, and more serious abdominal discomfort when consumed in larger and/or more consistent amounts.
As such, people who are considering incorporating xanthan gum into their diets should consult their doctors prior to doing so in order to ensure they do not exceed recommended intakes or experience any adverse reactions.
The science of Xanthan gum so far
Animal studies have uncovered conflicting effects of xanthan gum consumption. Short-term experiments with rats and dogs found no significant changes in growth, survival rates, blood markers, or organ weight other than occasional soft stools. However some research revealed that a diet containing 4% xanthan gum increased the amount of water in the animals’ intestines by up to a whopping 400%. That is a massive fundamental alteration of the function and state of a critical organ. Is it healthy to take an organ 400% away from its natural state of being?
This same study showed that xanthan gum increased the number of sugars left inside the intestine. This also leaves the gut environment more vulnerable to gut rot and fermentation. On the other hand, an incredibly high dose of 50g/kg for 4 weeks led to a considerable increase in stool water content and short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) levels.
In a human study on the effects of consuming xanthan gum, eighteen volunteers were asked to have a daily intake of 15 grams for 10 days. The results showed that the xanthan gum acted as a strongly effective laxative, with participants having increased stool output and gas production. Furthermore, stool samples from participants who could break down xanthan gum also showed significantly higher production of hydrogen gas and SCFA (short-chain fatty acids) compared to before the trial. This evidence shows that ingesting xanthan gum can have a considerable effect on the gut. It’s also important to note that increased hydrogen gas in the gut is also linked to various bacterial overgrowths which are very bad for overall health - not just gut health.
Despite the industry’ interpretation of these findings as benevolent and harmless, we believe that a critical approach to these studies is needed.
Harmful to Infants
Another concerning study revealed that xanthan gum was linked to the development of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in infants that ingested baby food called SimplyThick which had xanthan gum. The baby food is no longer used in general practice. Nonetheless, the immature digestive systems of newborns appear to be extremely sensitive to the short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) produced by bacteria when xanthan gum is present in the diet. To avoid any potential risks for NEC, it is suggested that babies under 12 months old avoid manufactured thickening products and instead use other alternatives like rice cereal or baby oatmeal.
Again, despite industry claiming that xanthan gum is safe for grown adults and non-infant children, we remain skeptical. A natural, whole food diet from organic ingredients with minimal synthetic compounds is an approach we believe to be safer and healthier.