Xanthan gum is a food additive that you may consume multiple times a day. It is common in everything from gluten-free food to personal care products, such as toothpaste and creams. Read on below to find out more about xanthan gum.
What is Xanthan Gum?
Xanthan gum, also known as polysaccharide B-1459, is a natural carbohydrate commonly made using bacteria (Xanthomonas campestris) [1, 2].
X. campestris produces xanthan gum from common sugar sources. The sugars are fermented with X. campestris, treated with alcohol, and dried to form xanthan gum [1, 2, 3].
The bacteria, however, is a deadly plant pathogen responsible for diseases like black rot, bacterial leaf blight, and citrus canker disease. Although not dangerous to humans, this bacteria can devastate crops if not controlled .
Xanthan gum has been classified as non-toxic. It has even been approved without limitations by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to be used as a food additive .
Xanthan gum has a variety of food applications. It is used as a thickening and stabilizing agent in products like :
- Salad dressing
- Dry Mixes
- Dairy products
- Baked goods
- Frozen foods
- Fruity drinks
Other than its great health benefits, xanthan gum is used to increase crude oil recovery from oil fields using its advanced binding properties [4, 5].
Xanthan gum is made up of repeating units of simple sugars bonded together by bacterial fermentation .
Sugars like glucose, sucrose, and fructose can be used to fuel its production .
Soybean biodiesel, an environmentally friendly fuel, has shown promising results as a substitute for sugars in the xanthan gum production process .
Mechanism of Action
Xanthan gum has binding properties with water, organic, and inorganic materials due to its long chains of sugars [2, 6].
When mixed with a liquid, xanthan gum increases the thickness of that liquid, thus providing many health benefits due to slower reaction speeds [7, 8, 2, 3].
Modified-release dosage is very important in many pills or tablets to change the drug’s release rate into the bloodstream Xanthan gum is a great solution to modify drug release .
In simulated water systems, xanthan gum-based pills can extend the release of drugs, thus maintaining a consistent dosage over time. This would reduce the frequent need to take prescriptions [10, 11, 12].
Health Benefits of Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum has been approved by the FDA for use as a food additive, but not for medical use. Speak with your doctor before using xanthan gum for any health purpose.
Possibly Effective For
Diabetes is a chronic condition that impairs the body’s ability to process blood sugar. If blood sugar remains too high, it can cause damage to nerves, eyes, blood vessels, and kidneys .
In a 12-week study of 9 diabetic subjects, 12 g of xanthan gum decreased blood sugar levels during a fast and 2 hours after meals. No severe digestive symptoms were reported in this study .
In a study of 14 healthy male subjects and 4 juice mixtures, the xanthan gum mixture caused the biggest reduction in blood sugar .
In a similar simulation of the human digestive process, xanthan gum decreased glucose concentrations without negatively affecting digestive fluid thickness .
For those whose diet mainly consists of rice, xanthan gum may decrease its unhealthy consequences. Blood sugar spikes roughly 30 minutes after the consumption of rice. In a study of 11 healthy subjects, xanthan gum suppressed this blood sugar spike in humans .
In a study of 18 volunteers, xanthan gum had powerful laxative effects on the human body. The amount and frequency of stool production increased with supplements of xanthan gum .
In another study of 5 men, consuming large quantities of xanthan gum increased the quantity and frequency of bowel movements .
3) Dry Mouth
A study of 33 patients with severe mouth dryness caused by Sjogren’s syndrome used xanthan gum-based saliva substitutes at different thicknesses. Xanthan gum-based saliva substitutes improved dry mouth .
Patients on kidney dialysis complain about dry mouth and thirst due to a mandatory fluid-restricted diet. A study of 65 patients showed saliva substitutes containing xanthan gum can treat thirst and dry mouth .
Dysphagia is a disorder that describes difficulty swallowing or initiating the act of swallowing. A xanthan gum-based food thickener improved safety and provided relief for 120 patients with dysphagia when compared to 14 healthy volunteers .
Also, 76 patients with post-stroke dysphagia took xanthan gum thickeners and experienced increased swallowing safety, which could reduce choking events .
Insufficient Evidence For
The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of xanthan gum for any of the below-listed uses. Remember to speak with a doctor before using xanthan gum for any medical purpose, and never use it as a replacement for something your doctor recommends or prescribes.
In a study of 9 people, the participants who consumed xanthan-supplemented muffins reported a greater sense of fullness .
However, the European Food Safety Authority reported no relationship between the consumption of xanthan gum and increased satiety [24, 25].
Another study confirmed that xanthan gum did not significantly decrease hunger in 21 obese women patients .
6) Tooth Decay
Strong tooth enamel (the protective surface of the tooth) is a sign of good dental health. Acidic foods such as soda, coffee, and fruit juices can degrade tooth enamel .
Xanthan gum is a common thickening agent used in toothpaste. Xanthan gum is believed to form a protective barrier over the teeth, thus blocking acid attacks from foods .
A study of 16 subjects compared the erosive effect of acidic fruit drinks mixed with xanthan gum, showing it reduced enamel loss .
Animal Research (Lacking Evidence)
No clinical evidence supports the use of xanthan gum for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
Osteoarthritis is a painful joint disorder usually caused by aging joints or obesity. Multiple animal studies showed that xanthan gum injections protected the cartilage while also relieving pain [30, 31].
Xanthan gum was able to activate antibody production in mouse spleen cells. However, there is no evidence that this same response will occur in humans .
Xanthan gum suppressed tumor growth in mice by stimulating the immune system. Slowing cancer growth increased the survival time of mice diagnosed with skin cancer .
Side Effects & Safety
If consumed, xanthan gum can cause some digestive discomfort including laxative effects, bloating, and flatulence .
Use caution when handling xanthan gum in its powder form. Workers exposed to high amounts of xanthan gum powder reported non-life-threatening nose and throat irritation .
Other than that, there are no known adverse side effects to xanthan gum consumption. An experiment using 5 male volunteers ingested 15 times the acceptable daily intake of xanthan gum every day for 23 days. There were no significant health consequences reported beyond a moderate laxative effect .
Xanthan gum has a similar structure to other food proteins and may cause an immune reaction. A study of 288 human and animal blood samples showed xanthan gum caused a noticeable immune response. Healthy individuals could suffer from hidden food allergies .
Diabetes patients should use caution when taking xanthan gum. Blood sugar may reach low levels when xanthan gum is combined with diabetes medication .
To avoid adverse effects and unexpected interactions, talk to your doctor before using xanthan gum for any health purpose.
Limitations and Caveats
Many of the available xanthan gum studies only test on animals, so some benefits may not be replicated in humans. More human trials should be performed before you use xanthan gum for its purported health benefits.
Sources & Forms
Xanthan gum is a common food additive manufactured using bacteria. It can be purchased in powder form for use in cooking .
Xanthan gum is found in the following foods and products [2, 36]:
- Salad dressings
- Ice creams
- Gluten-free products
Xanthan Gum Alternatives
Xanthan gum can be substituted with the following in many recipes:
There is no safe and effective dose of xanthan gum for any medical purpose because no sufficiently powered study has been conducted to find one. Most professionals recommend staying under 10 mg/kg per day .
Users love adding xanthan gum to their recipe as a thickening agent, reducing the need for extra carbs in foods such as homemade bread.
Vegan and gluten-free recipes benefit from its binding properties while still maintaining great flavor. Most users report the best use of xanthan gum in protein shakes, milkshakes, smoothies, and ice cream. Xanthan gum helps produce a pleasant texture.
Xanthan gum is also an ingredient in homemade beauty products. It provides a cheap and effective way to mix hair gels and lotions.