I am posting this bit of trivia in case it might be of interest to anyone else who sufferers adverse side effects from eating foods containing xanthan gum; to anyone who feeds baby formula containing xanthan gum to their infant; to anyone researching the side effects of food grade xanthan gum.
It is not my intent to explain all about what xanthan gum is, what foods typically contain xanthan gum, or when it was first introduced into the food chain—you can find that information elsewhere—but rather to call attention to possible severe adverse side effects from ingesting food grade xanthan gum.
My source for this bit of trivia is Wikipedia, so take it for what it’s worth, but I couldn’t help but feel validated by it, since I cannot tolerate any food containing xanthan gum.
I suffered puzzling symptoms of abdominal distress for nearly twenty years, and only became aware of what caused them in 2009 , when I briefly tried a gluten free diet to see whether it would finally resolve my problem. This was after I had already followed a whole foods diet as described in Restoring Your Digestive Health, by Rubin and Brasco, for a couple of years, during which time I was always healthy, except for occasional, short-lived flare-ups after I ate at a restaurant or at someone else’s house. I could not explain it. Why would my healthy digestive system still react this way to “normal” food? (Once you understand the prevalent use of xanthan gum in processed foods, you will understand how difficult it is to avoid.)
I decided to take my healthy eating habits one step further and go on a strict gluten free regimen. It was while on this strict organic, whole foods, gluten free diet that I discovered the root of my problem. Only the gluten free baked goods upset my stomach, causing the exact same abdominal distress that had puzzled me for years—pain and distension throughout stomach and intestines, resolving itself with or without treatment in 18-20 hours. The only additive in the gluten free baked goods was xanthan gum.
Even minute amounts of xanthan gum cause me severe stomach and intestinal pain, like knives in my stomach, accompanied by huge distension of my abdomen, sometimes making me look three+ months pregnant. I am small, by the way–about 5’5″ and 119-122 pounds; female. From time of ingestion to time that symptoms pass is usually no more than 20 hours for me. If I happen to eat food containing xanthan gum at lunch time, for example, I feel fine the next morning when I awake, though I suffered the prior evening before I fell asleep. I find discomfort is somewhat relieved if I lay stomach down on a pile of pillows, putting even pressure on my entire abdomen. Stomach remedies have no effect, except a gas reducing pill that helps but little.
Here is the promised trivia, complements of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanthan_gum :
“On May 20, 2011 the FDA issued a press release warning “parents, caregivers and health care providers not to feed SimplyThick, a thickening product, to premature infants.” The concern is that the product may cause necrotizing enterocolitis. SimplyThick’s active ingredient is xanthan gum” [The ingredient list for SimplyThick is short:] “Water, Xanthan Gum, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate.”
So, I looked up “necrotizing enterocolitis,” and, yes, that sounds like what could be happening in there; lots of trapped gas, for starters.
Following medical term after medical term mentioned in these Wikipedia articles, I also found similar validation in an article about “Pneumatosis intestinalis” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pneumatosis_intestinalis .
In pneumatosis intestinalis (gas cysts in the intestinal wall), in premature infants, the diagnosis is as follows:
“The clinical features are divided into 3 stages:
Stage 1 — Apnea, bradycardia, lethargy, abdominal distension and vomiting.
Stage 2 — Pneumatosis intestinalis and the above features.
Stage 3 — Low blood pressure, bradycardia, acidosis, disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) and anuria.”
NO, I do not exhibit all of those symptoms, but then I am not exposed to xanthan gum for more than one meal (typically). By nature, I normally have relatively low blood pressure accompanied by a slow heartbeat, so that would not be unusual. When I am sick with xanthan gum imposed symptoms, I do feel lethargic and tired. During such bouts, I do not even attempt physical work. I do NOT get nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea. As for anuria, if anything I need to urinate more frequently, though with less volume at each time, apparently because the swollen intestines are pressing on my bladder. As for acidosis, I could use my pH papers to see whether my system is more acid during a bout, when next I have one, but I assume a change in overall pH should take much more than just a few hours, so I doubt I would have that.
Then again, I usually have only single incident exposures to xanthan gum, not prolonged exposure over time as was the case with the infants who were fed formula containing SimplyThick.
Interesting stuff. I think the company that makes xanthan gum should consider medical studies on adults to find out what is the prevalence of stomach distress caused by xanthan gum…and also find out why is it so many people seem completely unaffected. At least, they do not know that they are affected. What is it about people like me, that only we are prone? And premature babies?
Well, for starters, the babies received xanthan gum in every sip of their entire diet; adults typically eat a variety of processed and whole foods…
I suffered from mysterious, intermittent stomach issues for years before I deduced the cause, and was probably only able to do so because I did my own cooking and could eat when and what I wanted. I feel for those who see doctor after doctor and get colonoscopies, or misdiagnosis, and take bottle after bottle of stomach remedy, only to continue suffering. It is not necessary, if xanthan gum is the cause.
Try, for at least two weeks, to read all labels and eat no food that contains xanthan gum, and see if it makes a difference for you. Good luck, because, it is found in most all varieties of processed foods; some more than others. Find the brands that do not use it—they are available, if you must eat processed foods.
Incidentally, I found that no over the counter stomach remedy relieved my symptoms during an active bout; only time. It had to run its course. I believe that a gas-reducing pill may help with the distension, so if I have that available, I will take one, but the pain and most of the distension always remains. I have told my doctors that I have this sensitivity to xanthan gum. They write it in my file and give no comment or advice.
I would be interested in comments from anyone who has found this post helpful.
All my best,