Harmful or Harmless: Xanthan Gum

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I hope everyone had a wonderful and delicious Thanksgiving! Today, I’m continuing my series on common food additives.

Last time, I discussed the health effects of carrageenan, a food additive that is commonly used as a stabilizer, thickener, or emulsifier. Another additive that shares many of these functions in commercial foods is xanthan gum, which is also popular in gluten-free baked goods for the elasticity it lends to dough.

Although it isn’t as heavily discussed in the blogosphere as the other additives I’ve covered thus far, many health-conscious people see it on ingredient lists and wonder what it is, and whether they should be eating it. In this article, I’ll do my best to answer those questions.

Should you avoid xanthan gum in gluten-free baked goods? Find out in this article.Tweet This

Xanthan gum is a largely indigestible polysaccharide that is produced by bacteria called Xanthomonas Camestris. (1) Manufacturers place the bacteria in a growth medium that contains sugars and other nutrients, and the resulting product of bacterial fermentation is purified, dried, powdered, and sold as xanthan gum. (Makes you wonder who first thought to put it in food, doesn’t it?)

Animal studies

Overall, the results from animal studies on xanthan gum aren’t very concerning. In one experiment, rats were fed xanthan gum for two years in concentrations of 0.25, 0.50 or 1.0 g/kg body weight per day. (2) The only notable difference between the xanthan gum groups and the control group was that rats fed xanthan gum experienced soft stools somewhat more frequently than the control rats, but even that barely reached statistical significance. There were no differences in growth rate, survival, blood markers, organ weights or tumor incidence.

Another experiment followed a similar design but used dogs instead of rats, and the results were the same: no changes other than occasional soft stools. (3) In a three-generation reproductive study, rats were fed either 0.25 or 0.50 g/kg per day, and there were no significant changes in the parents and offspring from the xanthan gum-receiving groups. (4)

Based on those initial studies, it was concluded that xanthan gum is a perfectly safe food additive. Since then, a few additional animal studies with different aims have been published.

One study, conducted to evaluate the effects of xanthan gum on digestion in rats, found that a diet containing 4% xanthan gum increased the amount of water in the intestines by 400%, and also increased the number of sugars remaining in the intestine. (5) Another study found that in rats fed 50 g/kg of xanthan gum (an incredibly high dose) for 4 weeks, the stool water content and short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) content increased significantly. (6)

This last study actually relates to the potential anti-tumor properties of xanthan gum, and researchers found that orally administered xanthan gum was able to slow tumor growth and prolong the survival of mice with melanoma. (7) The mechanism is unclear, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Human studies

Due to the lack of harmful effects observed in animal studies, there are few human studies on xanthan gum. The first study aimed to determine the safety of xanthan gum when consumed by humans in an everyday dietary setting, but at levels much higher than people would normally encounter in their diet. (8) For 23 days, 5 adult men with no GI issues consumed between 10.4g and 12.9g of xanthan gum daily (based on the subjects’ weight), which is 15 times the current Acceptable Daily Intake of 10mg/kg. Overall, they experienced a reduction in serum cholesterol, an increase in fecal bile acid, and an increase in stool output and water content.

Another study had volunteers consume 15g of xanthan gum per day for 10 days. (9) They found xanthan gum to be a “highly efficient laxative,” and subjects experienced greater stool output and gas. That’s not very surprising considering the high dose, but what I found particularly interesting about this study was their measurement of the ability of subjects’ fecal bacteria to metabolize xanthan gum.

The researchers found that before the trial period, bacteria from the stools of only 12 of the 18 subjects could break down the xanthan gum, while after the trial period, bacteria from 16 of the subjects could break it down. (10) Additionally, the stool samples containing bacteria that could break down the xanthan gum showed a much greater production of hydrogen gas and SCFA after the trial period as compared to baseline, indicating that the intestinal bacteria of the subjects quickly adapted to this new food source. Clearly, xanthan gum (like many indigestible carbohydrates) can have a profound impact on the gut microbiota in large doses.

Colitis in infants

The only concerning research I found on xanthan gum relates to the development of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in infants. Earlier this year, the New York Times published an article relating the tragic deaths of infants who had developed NEC after consuming a diet of formula or breast milk that had been thickened with a xanthan gum-based product called SimplyThick. This product was widely used in hospitals to thicken feed for infants with swallowing difficulties.

Two papers reviewed the cases of xanthan gum-associated NEC, and while there isn’t enough data to establish causation, the general consensus seems to be that the xanthan gum caused increased bacterial production of SCFA in the newborns’ intestines, and this contributed to the development of NEC. (11, 12) Although SCFA are vital to colon health, the immature digestive systems of newborns appear to be extremely sensitive to them. (13, 14) Since then, general practice guidelines suggest avoiding manufactured thickening products in babies under 12 months old, and rice cereal or baby oatmeal is used instead.

I wanted to address this because while it’s clearly important to avoid giving xanthan gum to infants (especially in large amounts), I’d like to emphasize that none of this changes the fact that xanthan gum appears to be relatively harmless in adult humans. None of the animal or human studies found damage to the intestinal mucosa following xanthan gum consumption, even in large doses, so this danger appears to be unique to newborns. For everyone else, SCFA aren’t something to be afraid of, and they are actually beneficial for the gut and for metabolic health, as I mention in previous articles here and here.

Wheat, corn, soy, and dairy allergies

I mentioned in the opening section that xanthan gum is produced by bacterial fermentation of a sugar-containing medium. Unfortunately, that ‘medium’ is often a potentially allergenic substance such as corn, soy, dairy, or wheat. Many xanthan gum manufacturers aren’t eager to share what their ‘medium’ is, but one common supplier, Bob’s Red Mill, discloses their production practices.

It looks like they originally used corn or soy as a medium, but they’ve since changed their medium to a glucose solution derived from wheat starch. However, they claim that the xanthan gum is still gluten-free, and it continues to be marketed as such.

It can be difficult to find production info online, but just be aware that if you have a severe allergy to corn, soy, wheat, or dairy, it would be prudent to either avoid xanthan gum entirely or check with the manufacturer to see how it’s produced.

Conclusion

Based on the available evidence, the worst xanthan gum seems to be capable of (in adults) is causing some digestive distress in those who are susceptible by increasing stool bulk, water content, and sugar content. But as I just mentioned, those with severe allergies should also be careful.

I recommend that people with digestive problems generally avoid xanthan gum, not because there’s evidence that it could damage your gut, but because its structural properties make it likely to produce unpleasant gut symptoms. Unlike carrageenan, there’s no evidence that xanthan gum can cause serious harm (even in human studies using doses much higher than people would normally encounter), so if you are able to tolerate it, I see no compelling reason to strictly avoid it. I wouldn’t recommend consuming large amounts every day, because xanthan gum appears to have a high propensity for altering the gut microbiome, and it’s unclear whether that alteration could be problematic in the long run. But the small amounts that you would normally encounter in the context of a real-food diet shouldn’t present a problem.

Now I’d like to hear from you. Have you ever experienced any unpleasant side effects from using xanthan gum? Have I allayed your fears about this additive? Let me know in the comments below.

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Comments Join the Conversation

  1. kitsy says

    Earlier this year, as a result of getting a lot of flak from their consumers, So Delicious agreed to eliminate carrageenan from their unsweetened coconut milk. Uh-oh, I thought. I’m not a happy camper with additives in a product at ALL (even the so-called nutritious ones), so I was wary as to what they’d come up with as a substitute. Here’s a list of what’s in it now: “Ingredients: organic coconut milk (water, organic coconut cream), calcium phosphate, magnesium phosphate, guar gum, xanthan gum, vitamin A acetate, vitamin D2, L-selenomethonine (selenium), zinc oxide, folic acid, vitamin B12″. Sheesh! :-(

      • kitsy says

        Thanks for the link, mariangain. I’m not sure what a nut milk bag is, but I’ll definitely check into it.

        I know what a nutbag is, though….I just have to look in the mirror. ;-)

  2. Lydia says

    I am really happy I came across your website! Thank you for explaining what Xanthum Gum is. I have been eating gluten free for awhile now but still had bloating and digestive issues. I am going to eliminate XG fromy diet and see if it helps. Thanks for the hard work you do to educate us on these topics!

  3. charles white says

    xanthan gum is the primary ingredient in nestles resource thicken up a VERY popular liquid thickener used for stroke patients and others having trouble with swallowing. The danger without the xanthan gum thickener is aspiration OR dehydrathin. From your article wouldn’t the use of xanthan gum take needed water from the body and put it in the gut thereby CONTRIBUTING TO dehydration??

    this would seem to be a critical and lifethreatening iussue.

    • Ricky Gransee says

      If used as a thickening agent in drinks, sauces, and dessings I’m certain it would already be fully saturated and if anything help supply hydration much like tapioca, pectin or gelatin. It might in things like breads when the cooking process removes most of the moisture. Just my opinion, I have not seen any studies on it and I am not a food scientist.

  4. flower sierra says

    Aside from the fact science changes it’s mind about “facts” every other week, there is no denying, the sharing on this site, whether “scientific” or not, has been invaluable to many. Though I personally do NOT suffer from any of the more serious health issues brought up in this forum, I none-the-less get a picture of what is going on for many and find this informative. It’s sad that Christopher has injected such a negative spirit into these discussions, which I have found to be loving and encouraging, and amiable, all the months I’ve been receiving updated comments. I wish there was a moderator for this site which would take action to block this vitriol. It’s obvious this person is suffering ill health in mind, body and spirit and the tolerance given so far to this bad behavior has gone above and beyond necessary. It would be a shame to allow one person to wreck this helpful forum, but If it doesn’t stop, I, also will be unsubscribing. Enough of this.

  5. Christopher says

    SERIOUSLY??? I see a lot of poor anecdotal evidence(?) in the comments about people getting the trots and getting acne or thinking that XG was in Texas Roadhouse’s butter and I just don’t believe them. I think that they are BSing themselves. NOT SCIENCE. And they are just spreading rumours.

    The amount to substitute in a gluten free bread loaf is about 1/4 tsp. And when you think about how much that means in a meal it is incredibly small. The studies sited by Kresser used very large amounts (comparatively) and still found few issues and they were minor. I also doubt that Xanthan gum is even used in products found in chain restaurants as it is very expensive! PLUS, if you are eating at these chain restaurants I think you better look to other areas for the problem. There would be plenty of other culprits other than Xanthan gum, that’s for sure!

    My two cents.

    • Xanthan gum is EVERYWHERE! says

      Christopher, Xanthan gum is in ALL salad dressings, Wendy’s chili & Frosty, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, most cottage cheeses, most canned soups, many ice creams and 99% of packaged, gluten free baked goods & baking mixes. You pontificate much from very little knowledge.

      The anecdotal material you speak of is based on these people’s personal suffering. If I eat anything with xanthan gum, my temperature shoots up to 101, my face flushes beet red and I ache from head to toe. My tummy swells and my eyes get extremely puffy. I have learned this through trial and elimination, which is how my doctors instruct me to identify my food triggers besides gluten. This takes extreme diligence & sacrifice on my part & has meant giving up almost any food I didn’t cook personally. I pay a heavy price daily for my improving health, but the price of not doing so is far, far more.

      I hope you never have to know how this feels, but being judged and condemned is part of the price we pay to live. I do hope you learn compassion and the importance of doing a little research before instructing others.

      • Christopher says

        I think that the anecdotal evidence here is more in line with a rare, individual, food sensitivity that is the result of already having a leaky gut, NOT EVIDENCE of an innate issue with the item in question. And certainly not science!

        Example… people with overall poor diets where the gut has already become compromised may become sensitive to milk proteins and sugars.

        The SCIENTIFIC studies that Chris has referred to show that Xanthan Gum is safe overall. It is a polysaccharide, NOT poisonous antinutrient.

        It is NOT something that the average person should be up in arms about… no more so than milk!

        On top of that, I still say that a LOT of people BS themselves with POOR anecdotal analysis.

        Christopher

          • Robyn says

            I didn’t realize I was posting anonymousl . Christopher, nor do I wish to condemn. I was responding to your condemnation. This conversation is populated by people who have Celiac & other food sensitivities, not the general, healthy population. We LIVE being condemned & misunderstood. These dialogs help us to consider possible triggers. I never even heard of Xanthan gum before reading a comment on a board like this. I was trying to pinpoint my trigger & was still suffering, even incapacitated. I wasn’t faking that 102° fever. I figured out rice flour hurt me, but still needed further help. Once I eliminated all foods containing Xanthan gum I spent fewer days in bed, crying in pain. I don’t LIKE avoiding all packaged gluten free breads & cookies. I miss being able to put cream of mushroom soup in a casserole. I hate not being able to eat Wendy’s chili when my guys go for fast food or eat gluten free pizza. It’s HARD. Sometimes when I don’t feel like cooking I open a can of beans & that’s my dinner. But I LIKE being pain free & actually sleeping instead of constant insomnia night after night.

            If my name doesn’t show up, I’m Robyn Bray. Feel free to Google me.

            • Patricia Butkus says

              Hi Robyn: I cook for a 15 year that has celiac and is also has EoE – an auto-immune disease that is triggered by a number of foods. Have you ever been diagnosed with EoE. How do you find your sources for ‘clean’ products and good manufacturing processes. I am trying to expand the boy’s pantry of products and am having a lot of problems eliminating cross-contamination the manufacturing process. Any leads you may have are really appreciated.

              • says

                Patricia, I buy Bob’s Red Mill gluten free oats & oat flour. I also eat their gluten free buckwheat hot cereal. I order from SwansonsVitamins.com.

                I make my own cakes, muffins & cookies using oat flour & adding a pack of unflavored gelatin per cup of flour to add moisture & make it hold together. I just follow a normal recipe, adding the gelatin & perhaps an extra egg. These cakes are incredibly moist & stay moist for days!

                I don’t know much about EoE or cross reactive. I have identified my own personal triggers.

                Do you have a Pinterest account? That was most helpful for me on learning to expand my culinary world while eating gluten free.

                You can’t just find ways to substitute for the foods everyone else eats. Most “substitutes are inferior and contain xanthan gum. You have to start from scratch & learn from ABC, like learning a new language or culture.
                Friwnd me on FB & Pinterest & I’ll try to help you make helpful connections. My name is Robyn Bray. My FB profile picture is currently a pink rose.

        • Elizabeth says

          Hello Christopher
          In response to your comments, I would just like to say that although there may not be any so called scientific evidence to suggest that Xanthan Gum is poisonous or detrimental to humans. I can only speak from experience. I suffer with leaky gut and also SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth) and I reacted really badly to Xanthan Gum when I ate a coconut dessert with it in. An hour after I ate it, I was in a lot of pain, bloated terribly and had awful wind so I will not be having this again.

          I am not a person who has an overall poor diet but over my considerable lifetime I have been prescribed antibiotics, HRT and other medications which has caused my gut to become compromised and I am now sensitive to milk proteins and sugars plus many other food substances which I am in continual research to find how best to heal the problem.

          I am glad that you appear to be in good health and I hope that you never have to go through the same problems that I and many others have to suffer.

          Elizabeth

          • Christopher Grove says

            Good Gawd, people don’t listen!

            I am not saying that some individuals don’t have an issue with Xanthan Gum. I AM saying that the vast population does not have a problem with it and so it is NOT something that should be vilified! The same way milk should not be vilified or removed from grocery store shelves simply because SOME people THINK that they have an issue with Xanthan Gum specifically.

            Xanthan Gum is one of the safer substitutes for gluten to make a respectable sandwich bread. If YOU have a problem with Xanthan Gum, fine, stay away from it.

            But I hear very unscientific things from people people here.

            • Robyn says

              Christopher. do you criticize people who have cancer discussing which foods make them most nauseated during chemo?

              We are NOT the general population. Nobody who doesn’t suffer a bad reaction to Xanthan gum will give it up due to our anecdotal sharing. It’s hard to even get really sick people to request testing for Celiac. I know I drug my feet long enough, but I wouldn’t even know about Celiac had it not been for unscientific dialogs like this. Still, I resisted. I was too sick to face the effort required to change. I had to end up practically bedridden to decide to request testing for Celiac.

              Your protests make me wonder if you’re in denial, or living with a Celiac who is struggling against your condemnation. I hope not.

              Be well.

              Robyn

              • Christopher Grove says

                Your cancer comment is ludicrous and insulting and shows you for who you are!

                Although some COMMENTERS may have specific allergy and autoimmune issues, this blog is READ by the larger Paleo population and an UNSCIENTIFIC comment like “Xanthan Gum gives me acne” without any breakdown of their diet and any specific reason why they come to that conclusion, is not scientific, not helpful and simply confuses people who come here for the larger picture of ancestral eating and reasonable functional analysis.

                Keep your psychological musings to yourself! Your own need to attack someone who is simply trying to stick to science shows your own emotional shortcomings.

                • Elizabeth says

                  Dear Christopher,

                  I am not happy with the way you talk to people in your posts, you sound very arrogant and angry with anyone who has a different understanding to you. I have decided that I do not want to be part of this group any longer and will unsubscribe. Nothing I or anyone else will be able to change your attitude to those who are suffering with ill health.

                  I wish you all the best and hope that you will start to be more empathetic with those less fortunate than yourself.

                • Lisa b says

                  Even if your points make sense, even if you were 100% correct, you are receiving friction. Could it be the way you’re speaking to people or how you make the demand that others don’t share their opinions is not gaining you any favour among anyone here? Great orators and debaters aren’t great solely because of the validity of their arguments, it had more to do with delivery.
                  If your goal is getting your point across, you would accomplish that better by rethinking your delivery; perhaps you didn’t realize it but you’re coming across as hostile. Perhaps try again and test that suggestion to see if people are more willing to have a dialectic with you; you seem quite intelligent, I’m sure you would succeed with a different approach.

              • Elizabeth says

                Robyn

                I have decided to unsubscribe as I am not happy to read the comments Christopher is making.
                I wish you all the best in searching for answers to your ill health

                • Lisa b says

                  Please reconsider your decision. This forum is made better by mature and polite commenters. There’s no need for you to leave and take personally what someone else has said, who doesn’t know you. you have nothing to be ashamed of, you don’t need to leave. What will become of this forum if all the good contributors leave?

                • says

                  Here’s what I think happened…

                  I think a lot of people decided to gang up on me when I did not agree with their non-scientific analysis.

                  I think that people projected their tone of voice on my messages.

                  I said “BSing themselves”. I don’t see the issue with that when that is what I think that they were doing. They certainly were not being scientific.

                  The vitriol was not from me. Frustration, yes, and I showed it. Vitriol came from people who made snarky comments like, “Christopher. do you criticize people who have cancer discussing which foods make them most nauseated during chemo?”

                  THAT was vitriol!

                  Considering that my brother is actually dying of terminal brain cancer I’d like to have a one-on-one with this Robyn person!

                  Lisa B. You are the most reasonable person who has responded here. And, yes, I do understand delivery. I can actually be a very good orator. But actually, I simply did not have patience for people who are not being scientific and if they wish to leave in a huff, I’m quite happy with that. The internet absolutely needs less off the cuff demonization of… whatever the case may be… and more thoughtful, unbiased, scientific thought and commentary.

                  That is all I ask.

                  Christopher

                • Robyn says

                  I understand why you are leaving but hate to see you go.

                  Chris Kessler specifically asked for our experiences with Xanthan gum. I’m sure overwhelming anecdotal accounts prompt further research on such issues.

                  The only way we can prompt such research is to take the heat & speak up. Still, we do have to set boundaries after we do our bit, don’t we? Otherwise we burn out!

            • Valerie says

              Wow. I’m new here, but everything I’ve read from Christopher so far (and this discussion caught my attention!) seems perfectly reasonable until he got annoyed by so many people jumping on him. It seems reasonably clear that at this moment in science xanthan gum is safe for most people. We all understand that some of us have sensitivities and allergies that range from mild to extremely severe to just about anything and everything – including xanthan gum. A cucumber might be fine for most people and cause a dire reaction in another. Can we all be ok with that?

        • Elizabeth says

          Thanks Amanda

          I have been doing this and making progress, it is a long haul!

          Thanks for the link, I will look at it later
          Elizabeth

      • Gusto says

        I’m celiac and react to traces of xanthan gum as if it was gluten. The only cottage cheese that doesn’t have xanthan gum is “Daisy” brand and the only safe ice cream is “Hagen Daz”. Rudy’s and Udi’s gluten free bakery products are all contaminated with the damn gums as are all salad dressings.
        My fridge is packed full of olive oil, wine vinegars, Daisy brand cottage cheese, and the gluten free/gum free varieties of Hagen Daz. ;)

    • Nikki says

      Hey guys, there is a substitute for XANTHAN gum. It is guar gum, it is not the same. Unlike xanthan gum, it is derived from the guar bean. It is also noticeably cheaper. So I hope I helped. (Ü) <= smiley face.

    • mark says

      Thanks for all the posts…Through process of elimination I would have to say that xanthum gum causes a Consistent stubborn flare up of rosacea on my cheeks excessive gas and these nasty little red pimples.. I’ve been able to track this as I’ve recently swapped to a gluten free diet and checking the labels on all my packages and my protein shake it is present… I have no science knowledge but I have a lot of heartache from having to live with these symptoms. So im changing my diet again through the posts that I have read about this nasty additive and I will re-post in a couple of weeks with outcome.

  6. Katherine says

    Thanks for the information you’ve posted Chris. I found this very interesting to read and it’s great to see you’ve cited a number of studies. I’ve been Gluten free for over a year now and haven’t actually used xanthan gum in my cooking before but have seen it included in many recipes (particularly bread). Anything I find difficult to pronounce or sounds like a chemical I try to avoid – and this included this gum. I had previously researched natural substitutes for xanthan gum and like some other readers have posted, have used flaxseeds quite successfully. I soak them I’m water over night and they form a thick gel which I’ve used when making bread and it’s turned out quite well. I did however buy some xanthan gum today as I’m keen to test it out and see how my pizza’s bases that I’m making tomorrow night turn out.

  7. Becca says

    After reading about the different gums and how they can affect some people I came to the conclusion that I too might have issues digesting these items. I have been off any products with gum in the ingredients and I am starting to feel better. Does anyone know how long it takes for the gum items to get out of your system? I think I might have digestive damage due to the long use of the items and want to estimate how long it might be before my body gets back to normal.

    • Marian Gain says

      Hi Becca, Everyone is different, so estimating recovery is impossible. Depends also, on your commitment to an adjusted diet that eliminates all possible irritants, or triggers to your GI tract. SCD and paleo diet have helped me recover. Adding, L-Glutamine (derived from beets) to assist in healing ,has been a substantial milestone in my recovery. Getting All processed food out of the diet was also important as ingredients below a certain percentage don’t show up on the bag, or box. And if the problem persists, consider a possible, bacterial, parasitic, or viral cause. Good luck on your healing journey.

  8. Elizabeth says

    I have IBS and am trying to add more foods into my diet and been advised use FODMAP foods and am not sure if xanthin gum would cause me a problem being a polysaccharide as my bowel seems to take on a lot of fluid especially in the evenings as I bloat a lot.

    I decided to try a new product called Coyo yoghurt which contains xanthin gum and I have felt really lousy today and stomach unsettled so I am not sure if I want to try the other pot so I will have to leave it for a week and get my bowel back to normal before trying it again.

    I would appreciate any feedback

    • PC says

      Hi Elizabeth, I had problems with CoYo because it’s fermented and contains histamine, so it upset my stomach. If you have histamine issues this may be a problem.

      • Elizabeth says

        Thanks for the information, I am not sure if I have histamine issues but I know I have problems with fermented vegetables!

        Elizaberth

    • Debrah Roemisch says

      I have IBS –I stay away from all additives–carrageen, xanthum gum, MSG, etc., also all gluten grains. I had to eliminate all dairy for awhile but now can tolerate some fermented dairy such as plain yogurt, kefir and sour cream–plain with no additives or sugar is best. There are a few brands without additives or you can make your own for the best! Also mucaliginic herbs such as plantain and marshmallow, an help to heal your gut.

  9. Marilyn says

    Thank you Frances for your post of Nov 2013. I too am a canary. I can not tolerate most food additives at all. Gums like Xanthan are just laxatives as far as I’m concerned. And I don’t need laxatives. So are any of the alcohol sugars like sorbitol, mannitol, erythritol, xylitol and the like. These things are not necessary for good food. Flax seed is a good honest thickener so it Chia Seed. Did you see the article in the New York Times about the thickener SimplyThick? Xanthan gum in disguise. It was printed Feb 4, 2013. Warning Too Late for Some Babies. I don’t know if I can copy an excerpt from that article and post it here or not. Here goes:
    Six weeks after Jack Mahoney was born prematurely on Feb. 3, 2011, the neonatal staff at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, N.C., noticed that his heart rate slowed slightly when he ate. They figured he was having difficulty feeding, and they added a thickener to help.

    When Jack was discharged, his parents were given the thickener, SimplyThick, to mix into his formula. Two weeks later, Jack was back in the hospital, with a swollen belly and in inconsolable pain. By then, most of his small intestine had stopped working. He died soon after, at 66 days old.

    A month later, the Food and Drug Administration issued a caution that SimplyThick should not be fed to premature infants because it may cause necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, a life-threatening condition that damages intestinal tissue.

    Catherine Saint Louis speaks about using SimplyThick in premature infants.

    Experts do not know how the product may be linked to the condition, but Jack is not the only child to die after receiving SimplyThick. An F.D.A. investigation of 84 cases, published in The Journal of Pediatrics in 2012, found a “distinct illness pattern” in 22 instances that suggested a possible link between SimplyThick and NEC. Seven deaths were cited; 14 infants required surgery.”

    Innocent food additives? Think again.

  10. Simone says

    Ah thanks for this! I am doing an elimination diet and decided to make my own gluten free bread using Xanthan Gum, because I am eating quit strictly I couldn’t understand why I felt so ill last night and today, especially when I ate the bread. I wondered if it could of been the gum, so I googled it and came to this article.

    Agggh every time I think I am taking one step forward I seem to take one step back.

    • Ricky Gransee says

      If used as a thickening agent in drinks, sauces, and dessings I’m certain it would already be fully saturated and if anything help supply hydration much like tapioca, pectin or gelatin. It might in things like breads when the cooking process removes most of the moisture. Just my opinion, I have not seen any studies on it and I am not a food scientist.

  11. says

    Holy GAWD – I have severe food allergies and after a bad Celiac response to a new gluten-free pizza dough I tried I had an insanely bad reaction. I checked out the label and Xantham Gum was the only ingredient on the list that I did not recognize. So I Googled it up and there this article was. This is SUCH SUCH a huge help to me and my health. Thank you!!!

  12. says

    Robyn Bray. If you want to try what was probably the original gourmet cheese from which cream cheese evolved as the processed version, you can try St. Andre or Explorateur. Of course, they are 2-4 times the price but if you can afford it, they are the Mercedes of cream cheese. (I don’t personally have a problem with xanthan gum and find it useful but I am sure there would be another French revolution if somebody tried to put xanthan gum in those).

  13. says

    Kraft has suddenly added Xanthan gum to the original Philadelphia Cream Cheese, cottage cheese & Cool Whip. It’s also in most other brands of cottage cheese, sour cream & cream cheese. Be sure to read the labels of products you’ve been safe with previously because it’s showing up in products I have been enjoying previously. I will truly miss cream cheese!

    Daisy cottage cheese & sour cream are still Xanthan free.

  14. Heidi says

    Hello, I am posting on all G.F blogs that I can about Bobs Red Mill xanthem gum. Their xanthem gum is derived from a wheat source and makes my celiac family violently ill. I have tried to contact them to please change this. Even if we stay away from it, unsuspecting well doers who want to make something nice for my family have used Bobs xanthem gum, thinking it is safe, and my family gets violently ill. I have done experiments on my family using other brands derived from other sources with no problems. Please help me in contacting Bobs to help all sensitive celiacs. Thank you

  15. Jenny says

    If I get xanthum gum in any food, I suffer with severe headaches for a couple of days. When they first started I was using a well known diet food, which uses it to thicken the food. I had every test under the sun and finally I realised the it was each time I went back on the diet food they would start again. I now steer well clear of it now and read all labels.

  16. Lorrie says

    I recently went gf about a month ago. I was told I most likely have celiac, which I’m getting tested for tomorrow. I’ve been learning how to bake gf and haven’t had any issues…. I have used xanthan gum (Bob’s Red) and I’m actually ok…. but every single time I eat Canyon Bakehouse bread, I feel horrible. I get horribly bloated, stomach cramps, loose stools and I feel very run down. I haven’t baked my own breads yet, but I want to give it a try and see if it’s all xanthan gum or what. Now, I have used the Bisquick mix, no issues. Bobs pancake mix made me feel gross after eating it. So I am not sure what it is going on, but I’m not eating store bought gf bread anymore. :/

  17. juno jones says

    I will weigh in with the folk who have problems with xanthan gum. After I went gluten free about a year ago, I started trying gluten free baking mixes and breads only to find that I had far worse reactions to the gums than I did gluten, the symptoms being searing stomach pains, bloating and stools so watery that I could not control them.

    Of course this stuff is in many gluten free products and is often not labelled. Beware gluten-free beers. I had a couple of bottles of Omission at a friend’s house over three weeks ago. We were sold the beer at a local specialty store where the proprietor assured us that all that had been done was to filter the gluten from the beer, but because of my severe reaction, I am positive one of the gums (most likely xanthan) was added in for body or texture or something. I am only beginning to get my gut back to normal. Of course, beer not being food does not have to be labelled as stringently. Buyer beware and all that.

  18. jam says

    Why not look into coconut milk for the little one, almonds are a goitrogen and could mess with her thyroid.

  19. Margaret says

    Well this article cleared up my issue that happens EVERY TIME I eat gluten free bread. Never buying that stuff again.

  20. Isabel says

    Oh YES! I’ve had reactions-every time I eat the stuff.
    Six years ago, I had the whole too many antibiotics, trashed gut bacteria, got really sick, and had to eliminate a ton of stuff from my diet. I am the “allergenic” type and have always had sensitivities to dairy, eggs, wheat (all grasses) etc…so when I got really sick, I deleted all the things I knew I was sensitive too, I got an iGg test and deleted some more things (pecans, cranberries, celery, amaranth)…Needless to say I ate a lot of chicken and potatoes til I got better.
    Six years later I’m far better, but there are still things I can’t eat-or DON’T eat because I get reactions. Chocolate causes a rash on the sides of my chin, corn and wheat make my ears itch and tubes swell up, butter or milk cause my back to itch-tiny bumps, and XANTHAN GUM makes my eyes dry out and get red, every time!
    I’m guessing that what I’m coming in contact with has been fed either corn syrup, cane sugar (a grass) or wheat products…
    It ticks me off because that creepy stuff is in EVERYTHING! I actually do better to put an egg and a banana in baked items but it still leaves a lot of processed “health foods” that I can’t eat.
    So yes, I’d definitely say people with gut issues or food allergies/sensitivities should stay away from it.

  21. says

    I react to xanthan gum in the same way I react to gluten, or possibly worse. Whenever I get achy in every joint, feverish, a red rash on my cheeks, foggy brained, tearful & start confusing words, I start sleuthing & EVERY time, I find xanthan gum. I’ve found it in most brands of sour cream & cottage cheese, all salad dressings, Wendy’s chili, & almost every so-called “gluten free” bread or baking mix on the market.

    Diagnosed with Celiac at age 50, I immediately went strictly gluten free. I got better, but still had weekly distressing flare ups. After 6 months, I made the xanthan gum connection. Now my accidental expoaures are only occasional, but have caused me to go without sleep for days, have a major car wreck & other distressing episodes.

  22. Michelle Devereaux says

    Yesterday I ate my first gluten-free bread sandwich and after the third bite my stomach was in pain. I was extremely gassy and had the chills. I knew it had to be the bread and sure enough when I looked up the side effects of xantham gum I was able to pinpoint my problem. The bread is going in the trash and I will be reading labels from now on so as to avoid future reaction with xantham gum. I have no desire to “train” my body to learn how to digest a bacteria that I can’t imagine our ancestors would have tolerated eating.

  23. Di says

    I am very intolerant to vegetable gums and thickeners and xanthan gum was the first one that I reacted to. I can’t tolerate even a small amount of it without nasty symptoms. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons I had to give up processed food as it is in everything. Just wander down the pre-prepared sauces aisle and it’s very hard to find anything without xanthan gum in it.

  24. Denise says

    I’ve been eating Paleo for a while now but have been experiencing nausea, producing large amounts of wind and having an uncomfortable stomach on and off. I have done some detective work and have at long last narrowed it down to xanthan gum as the culprit. It seems to lurk in a lot of gluten free foods and quite a lot of other products too. Another reason to read labels carefully I guess .

  25. says

    there are certain groups of people that should avoid consuming this additive. In 2011, the FDA determined that premature babies should not consume thickening products containing xanthan gum(http://www.orencn.com)because they may be linked with a life-threatening condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), in which part or all of a baby’s intestinal tissue is destroyed.

  26. AR says

    I can’t say for sure if Xanthan gum is responsible for my symptoms, but I suspect it is. What happens every time I try some food and experience major dizzyness and vertigo, I notice that Xanthan Gum is an ingredient. It’s happened often enough with different foods that only seem to have Xanthan Gum as the unifying ingredient that I try to avoid products containing that. However, after reading about its manufacture and what is really does regarding the intestines, what that has to do with my brain makes me wonder if the scientific studies have looked for allergic reactions that may cause symptoms in unexpected areas of the body.

  27. says

    Hallo,

    Thank you for these series of highly educative posts. While so many studies have been conducted world over, it’s rare to find anyone writing about these additives in clear simple language: do or don’t.

    Might I ask a favor? Do you have any time to write about pectin ? Or about other chemically produced additives like distilled monoglyceride or glycerol monostearate? I am a food manufacturer and would like to understand better if my products might be harming other people. Thanks for any help you can offer.

  28. Rachel Geary says

    I have had issues with my digestive system and sleep disturbance for years. My diet has been radically changed and last year I noticed that coconut cream disturbed my sleep. When I dont use it, I still sleep poorly, but it definitely does pose extra problems. I was using Fair Trade Organic Coconut Milk, the only additive in it is guar gum.

  29. Caz says

    I am Fructose & Sorbitol Intolerant with possible Gluten Intolerance. I ate a gluten free frozen meal with xanthan gum in it and soon after I now have sharp pain & bloating in my gut. This caused me to investigate “xanthan gum”.
    Not happy about these food additives causing me pain when I thought something Gluten Free with no obvious fructons or polyols would be safe to eat.

  30. Kora S says

    Xanthan gum is extremely harmful to me personally. I found out a couple years ago when I decided to go completely gluten free. I started eating my homemade gluten-free waffles at night. They were so good!! I started wondering why I couldn’t sleep anymore. My heart was always racing like I was running a marathon but I was just lying there. I even started sweating! The next morning I’d feel so sick! I had a fever and I would go home from work early because I was so sick!

    I did my research and it turns out the guy that posted about xanthan gum on webmd.com had the same symptoms as me–but the poor guy has it worse! So I stopped eating xanthan gum but I still couldn’t really sleep at night and in the morning I still felt sick a lot of times. This past fall I realized it was in the toothpaste I’ve been using for the past couple of years. As soon as I found toothpaste without that horrible bacteria I can sleep again!!

    Every now and then I’ll eat something and not even know it had xanthan gum until I try to go to sleep. I’ll lie there awake for hours with my heart thinking it’s running a marathon. It’s usually when my hubby takes me out to eat like Applebee’s and TGI Friday’s. The worst was Texas Road House! I think it was in the butter…

    By the way, I’m not an infant and it’s extremely harmful to me. My body thinks it’s a harmful bacteria and uses everything it has to get rid of that crap! They MUST stop putting it in food!

    • says

      I agree–xantham gum is not good for me either but I would like to point out that Applebee’s is one of the worst places to eat because of their high use of MSG. MSG causes my heart to race, headaches, and generally feeling crappy!

    • Lauren says

      I am so relieved to read your story. My husband has various digestive issues and for the last few nights has had your experience not being able to sleep, racing heart, being hot and cold. I was searching the web this morning to try to figure out what he’s been eating that caused this. Xanthan gum appears to be the offender! Fortunately he doesn’t need to be gluten free, so we mostly run into this gum in dairy-free sauces (the last few nights, in whipped coconut cream).

  31. Amy says

    Hi All. I’ve been reading a book by a nutritionist named Lynn Genet-Recitas called The Plan and it has to do with foods reacting to our individual body chemistry and causing inflammation, among other side effects like bloating, tiredness, digestive issues, sinus issues, headaches, and swelling. Xanthan Gum is something she has identified over the years of her work with clients as highly reactive for some people, meaning that for those people, it causes inflammation in the body. For some people it might not cause any issues. It all depends on your body’s chemistry. This nutritionist helps you test and recognize foods that are reactive for you. I have found Xanthan Gum doesn’t sit well with me at, although I’m not gluten-intolerant and don’t have celiac (spelling?). I do have some underlying autoimmune problems and so I think that might be why I’m sensitive to Xanthan Gum. Gosh it’s hard to find something without it these days. Just thought I’d share this bit of info.

    • Jules says

      Amy, although I share your concern about Xantham Gum (or Guar Gum) for the reason that it serves no nutritional value and there are some allegations about adverse effects; one has to make gluten free bread/pasta etc. not to fall apart. Gluten is deffinately out. I am no great defender of these two Gums, however I wonder how your “Health Practitioner” has identified Xantham Gum as a source of inflammation. By empirical observation? Given the fact that the studies show no evidence of this, this “Practitioner’s” observation does not sounds like meeting the standard of a Double Blind study or anything close to it; more like anecdotal observation at best. General inflammation can be “sort of” detected by a CRP test, but it does not identify the location of the inflammation, much less the source of the problem. The only method I know of that detects inflammation with any specificity (again not with 100% accuracy) is Infra Red Thermography. Imaging. Given the allegation by that industry’s experts, that over 90% of Thermography Centers are substandard; (ie. poor image sensors, poorly trained – or not trained Thermographers and Thermologists) I would be careful to jumping to conclusions, specially since it is soooo difficult to find alternatives to keep the bread falling apart. I am not trying to discredit anyone, but I would love to hear about any substantive study on Xantham/Guar Gum; as I am still somewhat on the fence with these two additives, even though I am currently using them with no observable side affects. I admit, my “observation” is also totally anecdotal, thus has zero statistical significance.

      • Lisa N says

        That is a very good point.
        I too want to offer my anecdotal experience. I have been gluten and dairy intolerant for many years but despite cutting those out, I was stick sick with weird symptoms and still had digestive trouble. I was finally told by a holistic dentist, he suspects leaky gut, and so off to google and you tube I went, and found Chris Kresser. The first thing I did was get rid of all gums, and just by doing THAT alone, (which meant I stopped eating my gluten free breads and cookies) I stopped having digestive problems – stopped! Plus, started losing weight. My conclusion, I don’t HAVE to eat bread and grains. It’s not my god given right to eat it. And our ancestors didn’t eat it either. Carbs came from whatever veggies were available. Even if you’re a creationist, sugar is still a poison. After more searching, it seems that the only good bread you could eat, if at all, is rye – natural, organic, sourdough rye, just with salt and the activator.
        Cutting out all those things that require the gums means cutting out unnecessary sugar and carbs – which only contribute to obesity, diabetes and other diseases.
        Further, I doubt our ancestors ate those gums either, in any shape or form. Why give the body more work to do, trying to assimilate things that are processed and concentrated, when it’s already so busy doing the other miracles it does every day? If that gum was naturally occurring and abundant as some leaf and just ground up, well okay, but it isn’t and isn’t included that way in the breads cookies cakes and desserts. Nut flours work wonderfully in some recipes, now THAT is a naturally occurring food that could be ground up and included. My not at all humble opinion!
        An indulgent dessert can be the whipping cream chocolate mousse that Abel James eats. Sweetened with a half a drop of stevia, if necessary, but even without it, delicious, and again, I don’t actually NEED dessert. I just don’t see why we need to defend the innocence some additive with so much anecdotal evidence to the contrary, I really do not need a study to tell me my body doesn’t like it, PERIOD. It’s time to go back to the times when our bodies are not polluted with artificial or heavily processed things, so our senses return to normal, so our neurology returns to normal, and don’t deceive us with fake cravings, when we can actually listen to our bodies and trust the messages.

      • Christopher says

        I’m going to take a wild guess and say that she had her hold a bottle of the stuff in her hand in an outstretched arm and pulled down on her arm to see if there was any resistance. I get really tired of hearing that type of utter nonsense.

  32. says

    I use arrowroot flour as a substitute for xanthum gum. It can be used as a thickener and it also adds elasticity to bread. I use about 2 tablespoons per cup of non-gluten flour mix (i.e., gabanzo bean flour, rice flour, etc.) when I make flat-bread/pita pockets….delicious!

    • Marian Gain says

      Hi Lois, Any chance that you might share that recipe? I prefer the fast track to successful recipes, especially with baking.

    • Christopher says

      Why should that matter? GMO has no more effect on an organism than hybridization and you eat highly hybridized food items every single day.

  33. VIJAYA says

    I found that every time I eat Canyon Bakehouse gluten free bread with xanthan gum, I get low back pressure, pain in the area of the ovaries, and hips, and loose stools. It is so painful, that I would say that it is a grossly underestimated toxin and should be avoided at all cost. I am a empathic ayurvedic naturopath and I can say that my body will tell me immediately if things are not body friendly.

    • says

      I keep a constant feeling of cramping & pressure in my pelvic area. It gets worse if I accidentally ingest gluten or Xanthan gum. I’m reading labels like a detective because SUDDENLY, Xanthan gum had been added to my “safe” foods and I keep getting sick because I wasn’t expecting it.

  34. Jules says

    OK, my research and experiments are really paying off. Gums have no value at all, not even worth experimenting with. Using Flaxseed, Chia seed and Psyllium solves the problem to keep any and all my bread recepies together. I do not substitute wheat and gluten with starches; they are even worse (check the Glycemic Index) unless you have celiac. My “bread” does not taste anything as good as a great Parisian baquettes, but for me, the trade off of taste vs. optimal health is worth it – they taste good enough, specially with creative use of spices in cooking the meal itself. It boils down to individual choice. I understand that we need to watch the quantity of flaxseed; it is a source of plant based estrogen, so I mix 50-50% with chia seed. Nobody in my family has any medical issues, but in my opinion, it is best to take the best preventive lifestyle measures BEFORE it becomes an issue. It is the same as waiting to quit smoking until one gets lung cancer. That’s my two cents worth.

  35. flower sierra says

    Check out what Dr. Andrew Weil has to say about ALL the gum thickeners. His warnings, encouraged our health-oriented community to back away from anything processed, (even if labeled organic), keep it simple, begin making our own nut milks, etc. Though we are all impacted by our toxic environment, and affected by the corporate food industry attempting to deceive, we CAN control some of the negative health consequences, by taking responsibility for what we put in our mouths. For ourselves, and the next generations, we’re called to be conscious and aware. All the best to ALL of you who are holding fast to the commitment to live healthy, and encourage others to do their best.

    • Lisa says

      Thanks flower, good words of encouragement. I am so glad I’m not the only one doing my research and reaching out for help. I tend to get discouraged as there are some people around who seem to be able to eat anything without wondering what’s in it and I feel like the crazy paranoid lady saying oh you didn’t know that was a known carcinogenic? Etc.
      It’s nice to know I’m not alone in the fight to take the responsibility out of government and into my own hands.

  36. Lisa says

    Chris can you please address the ingredients in the BioK probiotic yogurt? I am on the Soy one as I am dairy allergic and also gluten allergic to add to my digestive problems. Trying to help myself by eating a good probiotic…
    water, evap cane juice, soy protein isolate, active l. acidoph and l. case, nute yeast, natural mango flavour, calcium citrate, pectin. Kindly please help!

  37. Claire says

    My daughter is coeliac and therefore been on a strict gluten free diet for the past 3 1/2 years. Almost all gluten free products especially breads contain Xanthan gum… within 6 months of being on gluten free diet she started to have digestive problems (something that ironically she didn’t have prior to her diagnosis). I’m desperately trying to find out what is the cause…consultants / doctors just say – “IBS as well as coeliac have some anti-depressants ” life is tough at the moment

    • Marian Gain says

      Hi Claire, Chris must be busy, or afraid of lawsuits. Here’s an article from a psychiatrist on the overuse of anti-depressants.
      http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/01/16/dr-brogan-on-depression.aspx
      There is a theory that depression associated with celiac may be a result of malnutrition, and that nutrients like folic acid and B6 can successfully address this deficiency.
      http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/symptomsofceliacdisease/a/Gluten-And-Depression.htm
      A good clean real food diet with lots of vegetables, juicing, slippery elm for sore gut days, and a gradual re-introduction of soy free poultry,eggs, and wild fish have helped me to recover my gastrointestinal health. And exercise, whether it’s as simple as a walk, yoga, Taichi Shibashi, or a bike ride in the fresh air and sunshine will elevate one’s mood. It is possible to live without wheat and all the additives in processed food. Best wishes on your daughter’s healing journey!

      • Marian Gain says

        @Claire, Heads up on the Foodsniffr organization. It is my understanding that food producers are NOT required by law to identify additives under a certain %. ANYTHING in a box, bag, can, or jar could be damaging to your daughter’s system. The tag line for this company is laughable. “Wouldn’t you like to eat a cleaner, gluten free diet – no GMO, no junk, just real food?
        How did we get to a point where we believe that anything in a box, can,or jar can be automatically deemed real food?

        • says

          All I’ll say to that is that most of us do not live on farms, and are not self-sufficient as far as food goes. And yes, packaged food can be real and clean, such as beans, rice, grains, even snacks & meals. FoodSniffr is really not aligned with any food corporations, but it’s up to each individual whether and what they will trust or not.

    • says

      @Claire Sorry to hear about your daughter’s issues. Doctor’s sadly do not even begin to understand food and nutrition, so they are really a poor guide to making these choices; that’s just the way medical education is structured :(

      I would take your daughter’s body cues to guide in making food choices – if she is reacting to xanthan gum, cut it completely out of her food. After all there are so many great gluten free foods she can enjoy without the overload of crap from GMOs, etc (did you know xanthan gum is genetically modified? that may explain all the gut issues). We created FoodSniffr (www.foodsniffr.com) exactly for people who are having some or the other food issues due to the modern food system – check the site out, we slice and dice foods along several different categories, and give you the good, the bad, the ugly for each food. FoodSniffr has a large section on Gluten Free.

      For healthy, clean gluten free recipes, check out our blog at http://www.foodsniffr.com/blog

      Do not be discouraged, certainly avoid going down the anti-depressant route – do give your family healthy and clean food, including healthy fats in moderate doses.

  38. says

    The great dilemma when it comes to eating gluten-free! While the other ingredients in recipes can be converted to organic and Non-GMO, it seems this ingredient can’t be, and isn’t too good for you anyway. I found an alternative – use a flaxseed and chia seed mixture instead. Find it here: http://glutenfreegirl.com/2011/02/chia-seeds-and-flaxseeds/. Join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/livehealthyliveorganic/ for updates on clean eating and more! We also have a Pinterest page with recipes and info.

  39. Carol Rainsford says

    I am also highly allergic to xanthan gum. My last challenge of xanthan gum was 2 hours ago; I developed a skin rash within 30 minutes along with a lower back ache (this was just 3 small chick pea flour cookies that I made). I’ve had worse reactions with consuming more in the past but wasn’t positive it was the xanthan gum at the time (that’s why the test today). So it’s now permanently off my list.
    Yes, I’m allergic/intolerant to corn, wheat, all grains, rice, soy dairy etc…….a walking train wreck.

  40. stef says

    Thank you so much for the article and all the great comments. We have been wondering why my husband has horrible gut reactions to some gluten free baked good and not others. We have been suspecting the various “gums” and all this information just solidifies those suspicions; so thank you!

  41. All American Mom says

    I normally don’t post on sites that I read, but thought I should here.

    It is only since the beginning of January that I have gone gluten-fee. My niece has Celiac disease and my sister is gluten sensitive. I have always thought I had problems with dairy, but have come to realize the dairy products I consumed are always with gluten products – pizza, pasta with cream sauce etc. More recently, for months now, I have been getting canker sores pop up in my mouth right after eating and I determined it was foods with gluten. At first I changed my diet to mostly fruit, veggies, eggs, meat, potatoes and rice. What I thought was bad arthritis in my knees totally disappeared and I felt great!

    I have really missed all things bread-like, though, especially when making them for my DH, who still wants regular bread, pizza, gluten-filled desserts etc. So I have tried my hand at gluten-free baking. I have found xanthan and guar gum give me worse symptoms than I have with gluten. Not cankers, but the intestinal upset, uncomfortable bloating and the runs (all day). Definitely not worth it. My teenagers, who have gone GF with me, to see if their complexions will clear up, don’t like the thought of what xanthan actually is. They are very much into natural foods as much as possible. To us, xanthan gum seems to have become the newest trend, like high fructose corn syrup, and is put in everything – even my DH’s favorite BBQ sauce, which years ago never had it in it. Trying to find things without xanthan is like trying to find actual chewing gum without all the artificial sweeteners anymore. It never used to be like that. When you bought Bubble gum, you knew it had sugar. Now it has sugar plus all the other sweeteners! Why? We buy Glee gum now if we need it for airline travel. I’ll take good old natural sugar that has been around for years rather than all this new man-made stuff.

    I also found it very interesting about that “Thicken-up” for babies. My son, 14 years ago, was born with a hole between his esophagus and trachea (trachea esophageal fistula) which was not actually found until he was 9 months old. After choking and turning blue (aspirating) and after many tests they sent him home on meds, O2, heart monitor, the works, and was told it was extreme reflux. It would take me hours to feed him. I found thickening up my breast milk helped, and as he got older thickened up everything for him, using rice cereal. I hate to think what could have happened to him if I used what hospitals are using now! Finally switched Dr’s after he still wasn’t sitting up at 9 months old and I was told the orange crystals in his diaper was from giving him juice, not from dehydration – he still coughed and sputtered anytime he drank. Two days later the new Doc had tests done, found the fistula and he had an operation. Started to thrive after the recuperating :) Now he is taller than me and my DH.

    Sorry for the novel, but had to get my two-cents worth in this time. I’d sum it up by saying these new “food additives” are not necessarily better.

  42. Aaron says

    We have a 23 and 6 preemie and after a feeding study we discovered he was secretly aspirating.our complex nutrition team has put him on “Thicken Up” it has xantham gum in it and scares the bajeezus outta me to think it may harm or possibly contribute to his death.please elaborate!!!!!should we stop all together.

    • Anonymous Iowa Mom says

      Yes, you should stop using it! I read the NY Times article that was linked to in the article and it sounds like 7 babies have died from ingesting similar stuff! They suggested using baby rice cereal instead!

  43. Kate says

    Well I’m concerned about your comment on giving to infants. My toothpaste for babies has it listed as the first ingredient! I’m going to write to the company and cite you! Lucky I’ve only been using the teensyest amount for a week or so.

  44. Rob says

    I am highly allergic to xanthan gum. Within seconds of consuming anything containing it, the glands where my jaw meet my neck instantly swell to the size of golf balls (pain, breathing/swallowing problems, potential anaphylaxis, oh and the digestive problems too). It was nearly impossible to figure out exactly what it was I was allergic to, since it seems to be in nearly everything anymore. Needless to say I have been avoiding it ever since and have even obtained EpiPens from my doctor to be on the safe side (I travel a lot for work, just try asking a server if a certain item on the menu contains xanthan gum if you ever want to receive a blank and confused stare). There is only one, liquid, toothpaste that I can use because all the others contain it. It used to be a complete nightmare, but I have become accustomed to eating a lot healthier since I prepare all my own food now, especially things like dressings. The biggest frustration for me is the FDA allowing it to go unlabeled; since only more common allergies HAVE to be labeled but this one can often get lumped into the “other natural flavors” category. So I know I am totally a minority in this strange allergy, but my answer to this article is a resounding HARMFUL.

  45. Scott says

    Back when I was overly concerned about spiking glucose, I used to take xanthum gum before my morning (slow cooked) oatmeal. Never had any problems from it.

  46. PC says

    I use xanthan gum when I make coconut flour baked goods, and notice a slight reaction but nothing too severe. I have far worse reactions to other foods.

  47. Beth says

    Have been coeliac for 20 years, and noticed the xanthan gum reaction (which often worse than the gluten) about 10 years ago. Generally try to avoid but sometimes have “treats”. My reactions are getting worse and now today are accompanied by flu-like symptoms as well. Also react quite severely to carraganeen (only noticed a couple of months ago). My whole digestive system just seems to be collapsing actually…sometimes now I don’t even know what I ate that makes me ill! Would like to go to dr – as I am really worried about the effect of sustained inflammation – but fear they will just dismiss me as a nutcase. Have had no problems with guar guar gum.

    • Danyal says

      I also have celiac & react extremely badly to xanthan gum. Horrible headaches, joint aches, nausea, & repeated exposure will lead to a full body rash. After figuring it out I carefully removed it from my life (can be difficult since it’s in everything from paleo muffins to toothpaste). Despite this my gut seemed to be getting worse. I was questioning everything I ate. I’d seem to react to something one time but it would seem fine the next. Eventually figured out I had a histamine intolerance. Went on a strict low histamine diet & within a couple weeks I felt better than I had in ages. It’s now been about four 1/2 months & I’m able to bring a lot of foods back into my diet with no reaction at all. I know this probably isn’t your problem but it’s something to consider

      • Kelly says

        Danyal, while everyone’s conditions can be very different, I think you raise a really good point, for Beth (and others) to consider the possibility that histamine is at play. Histamine has a very important role in inflammation. The symptoms listed on histamine intolerance websites, including Chris’ in another post , are very similar to the symptoms described by the individuals experiencing digestive sensitivity (myself included), and symptoms of histamine intolerance can be, literally, body-wide in all kinds of different systems. Low histamine diet web pages indicate that fermented foods (those foods which are affected, or, in fact, created via bacterial action) are often very high in histamine (examples are vinegars, soy sauce, cheese, etc.)

        It would seem logical to me that the right type of (histamine-producing) bacteria, feeding on a substrate of sugar and other nutrients (the process to create xanthan), is going to potentially produce histamine as a by-produce. Not sure if the type of bacteria used for xanthan production is histamine producing, but I’d venture a guess that the answer might be yes :)

        I actually can’t help but wonder if histamine isn’t a player in the early stages of inflammatory bowel disease, to some degree.

  48. Anne Studley says

    Thank you, Chris, for providing us with such great information. Could you please do an article on guar gum? If you have already, I can’t seem to find it. I alternate prebiotics and was told that guar gum is one. So I take 1/2 tsp of it in hot water once or twice a week before drinking milk or water kefir or kombucha, all of which I make myself. I make my own nut and coconut milk without any additives. I’ve never had any bad reactions to guar gum but would like to know if what I’m doing is safe.

  49. ChocoTaco369 says

    The problem I see with these additives are they rarely come alone. When is xanthan gum the only stabilizer/thickener used? Usually, a label looks more like this:

    Xanthan gum, guar gum, locust bean gum, carrageenan, polysorbate 80.

    All these things may seem innocuous enough on their own, but what happens when they’re combined? If you’re the type of person that makes a gluten-free cake for your kid’s birthday once a year, it’s probably fine to have a small stash of powdered food-grade xanthan gum in your pantry for those rare instances so the flours rise properly, but I’m going to continue to avoid it on food labels because it rarely comes alone.

  50. Laura says

    I have suspected I was sensitive to this additive and have developed SIBO eating a healthy primalarily Paleo/Primal diet (I have always had some form of IBS however and felt great after giving up gluten) I have been using bone broth and gelatin as my thickeners and avoiding store bought almond/coconut products with xanthan. Can you also do an article on guar gums since that goes hand in hand with xanthan. Also, I am wondering about konjac/glucommanan which I have eliminated from diet temporarily. Could you touch on that? Your columns are great and very balanced. Thank you@

  51. says

    I haven’t had a reaction to Xanthan gum in my own baking, but I ate some of Bob’s Red Mill’s GF corn bread on Thanksgiving (half of a muffin) and was immediately bloated like I had just ingested gluten. Not sure if it was the gum or the sorghum flour. Do you (or any readers) have any info on sorghum flour? I tried to google it and was unsuccessful.
    Thank you!

    • Debrah Roemisch says

      My husband and I have found that we are extremely sensitive to sorghum which sadly is being used by a lot of commercial gluten free bakeries. It is as bad as wheat for me! I do have some reaction to xanthan gum not enough to avoid it when out for occasional use but do not use it at home

    • Kate says

      It’s the corn! Corn is a horrible ‘bloatation device’ for me.. Notice it next time you eat a product with corn in it or even popcorn.

      • says

        I think you are right. I had a measured cup of plain GF pasta from Trader Joe’s that was literally corn meal and water for the ingredients. I got bloated within 10 minutes of being done. Thanks for your reply!

      • says

        Although it could be the sorghum–my husband and I both react to sorghum just like gluten(bloating, IBS)! I tend to react to corn with skin issues. I read somewhere(can’t remember) that there were some issues with contamination of Bob’s sorghum. We avoid it to be safe.

  52. Frances says

    A lot of people have multiple chemical sensitivities as well as allergies and as well as a genetic metabolic desease called Porphyria (Many types) and a very little bit of certain things cause terrible and sometimes life threatening reactions, so NO ONE can say that anythingsOK for everyone, whether it be natural or organic; to find out what you do not tolerate for whatever reason, you have to keep a very strict journal, not only of foods, but where you’ve been, what you/ve been exposed to, and have a lot of tests, etc.
    No matter all the various research, nothing applies to everyone, you have to be your own advocate and expecially with medicine, foods, cosmetics, environmenta;, etc., and you cannot rely on doctors as they are not up on anything much any more, and no one thing can cure anything; the body is dependent on synergistic food based nutrition.

  53. Adrian says

    HI Chris, I would be interested how your comment “because xanthan gum appears to have a high propensity for altering the gut microbiome, and it’s unclear whether that alteration could be problematic in the long run” applies to the use of potato starch as a source of resistant starch in the diet. It also causes gas, but is being encouraged as a good thing to get into. I.e tatertot in comments section http://chriskresser.com/you-are-what-your-bacteria-eat-the-importance-of-feeding-your-microbiome-with-jeff-leach

    • Chris Kresser says

      No, I don’t think the same thing applies to potato starch. Different compounds and different effects on the gut flora.

      • iris westerveld says

        Hi, what do you think about The xanthum gum in the toothpast, parodontax, thinking about the GMO factor.
        Does it work already in the mouth. One doesnot swallow it but some stays in the mouth? I use parodontax because it is fluor free, since 35 years. What Other toothpast can I find without fluor without GMO factors. I just don’t feel like supporting it if they are not interested in us, just in their own pockets of money.

  54. says

    As usual, it comes to individual reactions and sensitivities.
    I react A LOT to Xantham gum, Carragheenan, AND guar gum! That’s a No-no for me, but it seems to be fine with most of my patients!!!!
    It’s worse for me than gluten or dairy! Oh well….!!! I have to make my own almond milk, and coconut milk, and coconut milk ice cream!!!!
    I appreciate the time you spend on the research Chris!!! Thanks!

  55. says

    One factor you are overlooking is the GMO factor. When xanthan gum is made from corn or soy, and almost all the corn and soy in the USA is known to be GMO, then one can see how this ingredient can easily become troublesome, especially for folks with compromised immunity.

  56. Sirpa Kaajakari says

    I suspect I have reacted to xanthan gum just like I react to wheat exposure but can’t be sure as I didn’t eat it alone. I do not feel it improves the consistency of my bakings enough for me to use it so I have given it up. I might eat it if it was in something offered to me at someone’s house etc. but won’t buy it to my home.

    • Sally says

      There should be no problem for babies of nursing mothers as xanthan gum affects the gut and would be unlikely to be present in breast milk ( or in insignificant quantity if at all ). Retired midwife

  57. SusyQ says

    Thanks for the great article. As always, I appreciate the research you have done and the translation of that information into a form I can use! We have a Wheat free house, so we use Xanthan Gum to make sauces, soups etc. We have had no problems attributed to it and now my confidence using it has improved.

  58. Shelly says

    I avoid xanthan gum as it causes gas, bloating and stomach aches – all fairly mild but uncomfortable anyway. I used to use it when making gluten free baked goods of which I would only consume one a day and then have many days or even a week or two before baking again. These mystery ingredients just do not seem to set well for me so I just avoid them.

  59. Amy says

    I have used in baked goods and feel it really improves the consistency. I haven’t noticed GI issues with its use. I sometimes use Swerve or xylitol with it and any tummy upset I would attribute to the sweetener.

  60. Sandra says

    Thanks, Chris! I have had IBS for over 25 yrs and am concerned about the many additives used in gluten free or Paleo recipes. I stopped buying foods w/ Carragenan after reading your article but was unsure about xanthan gum. Now I know that I can indulge in small amounts w/I worrying.

  61. joy says

    I stopped chewing all GUM 20some yrs ago….when I see people chewing now, I think of cows chewing on cuds……

    For a little lift, I use WOW Drops, much much better than any gum.

  62. Brit says

    I definitely react to Xanthan Gum. I’ve tried intermittently over the last 6 years to reintroduce it after being SCD/paleo, dairy-free and gluten-free, but it makes me ill every time I consume it. The “unpleasant gut symptoms,” which I have with it, are definitely worth avoiding despite the fact that I do like gluten-free products made with it.

    • Marian Hansbrough says

      Wheat, corn, soy, and dairy allergies
      Xanthan gum is produced by bacterial fermentation of a sugar-containing medium. Unfortunately, that ‘medium’ is often a potentially allergenic substance such as corn, soy, dairy, or wheat. Many xanthan gum manufacturers aren’t eager to share what their ‘medium’ is, but one common supplier, Bob’s Red Mill, discloses their production practices.

      It looks like they originally used corn or soy as a medium, but they’ve since changed their medium to a glucose solution derived from wheat starch. However, they claim that the xanthan gum is still gluten-free, and it continues to be marketed as such.

      It can be difficult to find production info online, but just be aware that if you have a severe allergy to corn, soy, wheat, or dairy, it would be prudent to either avoid xanthan gum entirely or check with the manufacturer to see how it’s produced.

  63. says

    Very interesting post, Chris. To put this in perspective, xanthan gum is extremely effective thickener so very little is used. For example to thicken a cup of stock for deglazing a sauteed chicken breast would require about 1/4 teaspoon which must be less than 1/2 g. Two things: xanthan gum is very insoluble so, for example you would have to cook the deglazed stock for awhile and stir well to get out lumps. (More info in Dana Carpender’s book). Second, for thickening, it has consistency of corn starch-thickened liquid rather than flour-thickened.

  64. Frances says

    I react worse to xanthum gum than to gluten, it is made from the black mold smut from corn; it IS harmful to many people. I do not tolerate ANY of the gums and most other non nutritional so called ‘inactive added ingredients'; there is no such thing as an inactive ingredient, it is either going to be good or bad, and mostly bad as they are nnnon-digestible, and if you already have digestive problems, then they are going to be compounded expotentially. Some people are like canaries in the mines, a little will do us great harm, other so called normal people it takes a long time of useage to cause harm, by them it sometimes is too late to reverse, so stay away from crappy additives that FDA allows in people food, but does not allow in animal food! (except they allow it in animal foods comsumed by people cause they are going to kill them anyway and if they make a profit off them, they don’t care about the effects down the road on people) I just hope THEY eat a lot of their own products so they can get the full adverse affects of their greed.

    • Marian Gain says

      Frances, I agree with your comments. Chris, You haven’t raised the issue of GMO. Food producers look for the cheapest ingredients so they can maximize profit. I doubt they would source organic corn, soy or wheat. The story about the infants and NEC sounds so counter-intuitive. Why thicken their formula if they are already having problems with swallowing?!! By the way flax seed becomes very gelatinous when soaked in water for anyone interested in making their own bread. I eat real food. And leave the crap made by the dark wizards of the food industry for them.
      Another canary.

      • Susan says

        Thickeners are add to infants milk when they have trouble swallowing. Thin liquid are difficult. Usually these babies have other issues as well. From a mother who knows.

        • kathy says

          The biggest reason to thicken formula is for a condition called Reflux (technical name?) This is a condition where the “flap” between the esophagus and stomach doesn’t work properly so the formula & thin baby food comes right back up which can cause choking and/or aspiration (breathing in liquids) Thickening the formula (+thinner baby foods) and keeping the child at a 45 degree angle helps tremendously (especially important to do after eating and while sleeping). We had to get creative for sleep but there’s plenty available to make that task easier these days! We jokingly referred to our Daughter as the exorcist baby because it would shoot halfway across the room, people weren’t lining up to feed her lol! They usually grow out of this but surgery is sometimes needed. My Daughter did amazingly well, she gained weight normally and was completely cured by 8.5 months (when she began walking) I credit the sound advice of our Oldtimer Pediatrician for her recovery, his advice was much better than that of my youngest Sons pediatrician (who talked disdainfully about the “older” ways!) The oldtimer explained it by giving an example of a water bottle without the top on…the fuller it is or the more you tip it the more that will come out…it won’t come out quite so easily when thickened but it still comes out so keeping her upright was the best solution for her safety and comfort (think heartburn). He had us use 2 teaspoons of RICE cereal (easiest to digest) per ounce of formula and about half that in the thinner baby foods (they add water to commercial baby food so homemade is thicker and better when possible…I always froze it in ice cube trays then transferred it to ziplock bags so I always had perfect portions ready for use!) We were only supposed to feed her 1 ounce per hour but we often gave her two (satisfied her better and for longer periods (just made sure not to jostle her or handle her too much after feeding…the swing, without movement, worked really well for this purpose!) We were also told to change her diaper before feeding so we wouldn’t have to lay her down…remember the water bottle example!!

          Soy formula is the worst ever…all kinds of studies linking it to big problems….I can attest to them because my youngest drank it for 16 months and has had a multitude of health issues (currently very ill with Hashimoto’s which began at age 14)

          • says

            As a former La Leche League Leader and special ed teacher who dealt with multiply handicapped preschoolers who had difficulty swallowing, thickening foods helps enable those with weak muscles to bring the food from the tip of the tongue to the back of the throat for swallowing. With infants, consuming mother’s milk is the only ideal food for the first 6 months because they have immature digestive systems. Their can’t absorb nutrients very well from most other sources and although baby formula is sometimes indicated, mother’s milk is best; Thickened rice cereal, foods thickened with flax meal, and foods thickened with xanthan gum are not advised until the baby develops the enzymes to break down that food. Being in the food industry, I have done extensive research on xanthan gum and like Chris, I came away with the same conclusion….in normal amounts used in foods, xanthan gum is benign.

            • Audra says

              I have a fourteen month old daughter and I have been giving her unsweetened almond milk a couple times a day because solely cow ‘s milk has been giving her painful, hard stool. I read about newborns and the danger there but is it okay for my baby/toddler to have almond milk with xanthan gum in it? The almond milk seems to help with going to the bathroom but has these added ingredients I’m not sure about.

            • Lilian says

              My son has the condition called silent aspiration. All liquids need to be thickened to honey consistency. We’ve been using between 30-60g per day which is a lot higher than the amounts mentioned in this article. He’s on a gluten free diet or so we thought until I read this article. We may be using chia seeds instead from now on. We’ve used before and it should be more beneficial for him. It’s easier to thicken his soups and smoothies with fruits and veggies but there’s no much to do when we need to maintain his water intake up without compromising his lung health.
              Thank you for doing and sharing this research.

      • tln says

        Thick liqiuds are more difficult to aspirate when you have swallowing problems. Thickeners are used so that you have more control of the food and thus less likely to aspirate.

      • says

        Like you, I am hesitant to use Gum or any “inactive ingredients, but I desperately need something to produce wheat free bread, in order for it not to fall apart. Are you saying that ground flax seed soaked in water will accomplish the same?

          • Jules Geday says

            Thanks Marian, I appreciate the link. I am fortunate not to have any medical problem, but I strongly believe in preventative practices.

        • joy says

          I got rid of bread in my house, it started when I wanted to get rid of gluten, started buying gluten free bread and that wasn’t to my taste, so I just stopped bringing any bread into my house….I eat all my sandwiches in a lovely romaine lettuce leaf(s)…just had a lovely chicken/romaine with dijon mustard sandwich…I use MOST organic foods….

          • Marian Gain says

            @Joy, Collard greens also make a good wrap for sandwich purposes. We’re fortunate to have a local entrepeneur who has created a raw organic vegetable wrap. It’s held together with ground flax.

            • joy says

              Yes, I suppose one could use any LARGE green leaf as a wrap, I’ve stuck with beautiful romaine, but I’ll give other leaves a chance too for my wrap.

              I don’t use flax as I read things about it that didn’t fit for me…forget it all now, but don’t use it….and no breads in this house…

          • alan says

            Hey Joy, another way you can enjoy a sandwich without all the additives in bread is using corn tortillas as your bread. Lightly toast, or heat a tortilla in a pan and add your favorite ingredients. I buy the Casa Valdez brand at my local Winco market..The only ingredients are whole grain corn, water and lime.

            • nancy says

              is it non-GMO corn? I wouldn’t eat corn (or ANY corn products) ever again after what I learned about “monsato corn” and what it is doing to us!

          • iris westerveld says

            love your reaction, I am there now to and really enjoying it. keep it up.

            My question is more do I want it in my thoothpaste. My favo parodontax fluoride free?

        • Tiff says

          Hi there, just read your post. I make wheat free bread all the time and it is awesome and all natural! Look up “against all grain” by Danielle walker, her world famous sandwich bread is what I make. Hope this helps:)

          • Marian Gain says

            Hi Tiff, I too have made Danielle Walker’s grain free bread. It’s awesomely delicious; pain-free bread. I do call it my ‘special occasion’ bread as raw cashew butter is $13.00 (in Canada) for the amount required for this recipe.
            Meggs, I tried the buckwheat bread. Didn’t turn out for me. Door- stop material. Maybe I missed something.
            Anyone tried the gluten free girls recipes? You have to weigh everything, and I’m resisting purchasing a scale, as I’m limiting intake of grains altogether. But fall is coming and I love home-made soup with a crusty roll. Here’s a link:http://glutenfreegirl.com/a-guide-to-gluten-free-baking/

      • Phyllis says

        Hey if you have a good recipe for bread, I wonder if you would share, since I can’t eat any of the commercial breads. Thanks. I agree leave the toxins for the ones making us sick.

    • Lynda says

      OMG.. I AM SO MUCH WITH YOU!!!
      I could not believe american person wrote this. I got used to people think I am crazy thinking all “THAT” stuff is bad. And also I got used to think I am the only (lonely) idividum thinking that way. Hope very much America wakes up one day. Sadly no one is protected from the “infection” of big/easy/fast money, just as no one has the immunity from greediness, neither in the third world countries neither here in the US. God save America.

    • S. says

      Well said Frances! I’m also a believer of avoiding non nutritional so / inactive added ingredients. I love pure food. I also get cautious when I read that it is being created by taking out one ingredient (the bacteria) multiply it excessively (and even worse on an unknown medium). Things are out of proportion / balance and I believe that could be distressing the human body / digestive system.

      I know this is an old post, but I stumbled upon it and so will others. And I still like to reply.

    • D says

      I so agree that the FDA approves additives in food which are very harmful. Wouldn’t it be ironic if someone with the FDA came down sick & that was a main cause. It’s difficult to tell quite often though the source of a sickness when there is so much that is bad for our system. So much controversy in the food industry. Don’t know what to eat or drink anymore!!

  65. Carmen Maciboric says

    Considering that any thing more than 1/8-1/4 tsp causes things to become disgustingly ‘goopy’ and slimy… I think I’ll take my chances haha

    I only use it in baking anyways to give things some elasticity.

    • MJ says

      I like to use it to thicken chili, sauces, some soups; all which are homemade. The small amount I use in a large pot, probably about 2 tsp the most, does not appear to be significant but is far better than using at least 3x as much corn starch and or flour to get the same results.

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