IDENTIFICATION AND USE: xanthan gum is a sugar-like compound made by mixing aged (fermented) sugars with a certain kind of bacteria. It is used to make medicine. Xanthan gum is used for lowering blood sugar and total cholesterol in people with diabetes. It is also used as a laxative.

Xanthan gum is sometimes used as a saliva substitute in people with dry mouth (Sjogren’s syndrome). In manufacturing, xanthan gum is used as a thickening and stabilizing agent in foods, toothpastes, and medicines. Xanthan gum is also an ingredient in some sustained-release pills.

Xanthan gum swells in the intestine, which stimulates the digestive tract to push stool through. It also might slow the absorption of sugar from the digestive tract and work like saliva to lubricate and wet the mouth in people who don’t produce enough saliva.

HUMAN EXPOSURE/TOXCITY: a 7-day control period, 5 male volunteers consumed, on each of 23 consecutive days, a weight of xanthan gum equal to 15 times the current acceptable daily intake (10 mg/kg b.w.) approved by the EEC and by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives; thus, the lightest and heaviest of the volunteers consumed 10.4 g and 12.9 g respectively of xanthan daily.

Measurements before and at the end of the test period showed that the ingestion of xanthan, as a pre-hydrated gel, acted as a bulking agent in terms of its effects on faecal wet and dry weight and intestinal transit time but had no significant effect on plasma biochemistry, haematological indices, urinalysis parameters, glucose tolerance and insulin tests, serum immunoglobulins, triglycerides, phospholipids and HDL cholesterol, breath hydrogen and breath methane concentrations.

There was a moderate (10%) reduction in serum cholesterol and a significant increase in fecal bile acid concentrations. The data indicate that the ingestion of xanthan caused no adverse dietary nor physiological effects in any of the subjects. In particular, all of the enzymatic and other parameters that act as sensitive indicators of adverse toxicological effects remained unchanged.

ADVERSE EFFECTS: xanthan gum is safe when up to 15 grams per day are taken. It can cause some side effects such as intestinal gas (flatulence) and bloating. People who are exposed to xanthan gum powder might experience flu-like symptoms, nose and throat irritation, and lung problems.

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of xanthan gum during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid using amounts larger than those normally found in foods.

Nausea, vomiting, appendicitis, hard stools that are difficult to expel (fecal impaction), narrowing or blockage of the intestine, or undiagnosed stomach pain: Do not use xanthan gum if you have any of these conditions. It is a bulk-forming laxative that could be harmful in these situations.

Surgery: Xanthan gum might lower blood sugar levels. There is a concern that it might interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. Stop using xanthan gum at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.