The Dangers of Artificial Citric Acid

The Dangers of Artificial Citric Acid

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Citric acid is what gives many fruits their sour taste.This spurred the desire of food science experts to recreate it artificially in order to obtain food flavors, preservatives, and stabilizers. While in nature it is present in quantities tolerable for the body, the widely used artificial version comes from a type of mold that feeds on sugar rather than fruits.This raises concerns that artificial citric acid might have adverse health effects, including allergies, digestive issues, and chronic illnesses.

Many fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, naturally contain citric acid. The effects on health of this substance vary based on the source and quantity. While a moderate amount from natural sources can even have certain benefits for health, higher quantities of citric acid – and especially the version that is obtained artificially – can be harmful for the body.

There are more than one hundred distinct species of citrus, commonly grown, or rare cultivars and hybrids
There are more than one hundred distinct species of citrus, commonly grown, or rare cultivars and hybrids

Citric acid obtained from fruits

Citrus fruits, including lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, pomelos, and their juices are the richest natural sources of citric acid. Other fruits and vegetables with lower citric acid content include pomegranates, pineapples, figs, strawberries, and certain berries.

This mild natural acid can enhance the body’s ability to absorb minerals from meals and supplements, including calcium, iron, and magnesium. This can enhance the health of the bones, blood, and muscles, preventing or repairing deficiencies.

Because it increases urine acidity and binds with calcium in the urine, citric acid can also help avoid kidney stones. Paradoxically, consuming a high amount of citric acid can actually increase the risk of forming kidney stones.

Through its ability to stimulate the formation of bile and stomach acid, citric acid can also aid in digestion. This can enhance nutrient uptake and breakdown, and can lessen bloating, constipation, and indigestion.

These possible benefits and other positive factors have placed citric acid on the list of generally approved substances. Therefore, industrially-made artificial citric acid misleadingly benefits from the same certifications, although it does not offer the same health benefits. On the contrary, according to studies it can actually be harmful for health.

Citric acid obtained from mold

Increased use and popularity as a taste enhancer, a preservative, as well as an ingredient in cosmetics and medical products raised the need for high scale mass production.

In order to satisfy the demand using only natural resources, producers would need a large quantity of fruits, which also means higher costs. 

Therefore, food scientists resorted to more efficient, cheaper, and productive methods, even if this meant compromising quality in favor of quantity. 

The most convenient solution was to use a black mold called Aspergillus niger to ferment sugary substances such as corn syrup. The problem is that Aspergillus niger, like many other molds, is a strong allergen. This may cause negative responses in certain individuals and can even be hazardous if consumed in large quantities. It can cause allergic reactions, stomach problems, and teeth damage.

It is important to consume citric acid obtained from the fermentation of fruits
It is important to consume citric acid obtained from the fermentation of fruits

Moreover, in order to enhance production even more, synthetic citric acid is made using molds that have undergone genetic modification, which presents additional health risks, such as an increased risk of cancer.

The variety of uses

Many people love the tangy, sour flavor of this widely used substance. Even if some consumers are aware of its damaging effects on health, it is easy to be tricked by the fact that some products contain only a small quantity.

When checking the labels, citric acid can also appear as E330, sodium citrate, or sour salt.

But even if some products contain only small quantities, what people overlook is the fact that the substance is used for multiple purposes in various types of products. All these small amounts added together can actually add up to a large intake. If you want to become more aware about the sources of citric acid, it’s important to check the labels of these common products that we use and consume on a daily basis and which usually contain citric acid:

Store-bought drinks: Used in soft drinks, lemonades, and fruit juices, among other drinks, as a flavor enhancer, providing a tart, fresh flavor. It also serves as a preservative by inhibiting the growth of microbes and prolonging the shelf life of beverages. It also stimulates carbonation for sparkling drinks.

Sweets and frozen foods: It is added into ice cream, sorbets, candies, and other desserts for the same reasons it is added into drinks. It can also amplify the fruity taste and texture in frozen foods by acting as a flavor enhancer. It can help to preserve the original flavor of fruits when freezing and even increase their sweetness. When it comes to ice cream, artificial citric acid can modify the texture by making it smoother and avoiding the formation of crystals.

Lemon juice is a natural product that can effectively clean surfaces
Lemon juice is a natural product that can effectively clean surfaces

Preserves and canned foods: Citric acid is used to prevent fruits, vegetables, sauces, and soups from going bad.

Cleaning agents: fabrics, ceramics, metals, and other surfaces can all be cleaned using citric acid. It dissolves and removes limescale, soap scum, and rust stains. It breaks down calcium and magnesium ions, responsible for scale buildup, and helps inhibit the growth of bacteria and molds. Its acidic nature dissolves iron oxide in rust stains, making them easier to remove. Additionally, it helps neutralize unpleasant odors by breaking down organic compounds.

Supplements and medicines: Citric acid is used to flavor, conserve, or stabilize medications and dietary supplements, including aspirin, antacids, vitamins, and minerals, or to modify their pH. However, it can interfere with the absorption of some medicines and even facilitate the absorption of heavy metals.

The dangers of citric acid

Medical Medium talks about citric acid

In his book Cleanse to Heal, Medical Medium places the substance on the list of chemical additives that should be avoided: 

“Citric acid is very irritating to the linings of the stomach and the intestinal tract, so it can create a lot of inflammation and discomfort if you’re sensitive to it. Citric acid (the additive) is not the same thing as naturally occurring acid in citrus.

He also mentions the difference between the two, focusing on the importance of consuming fresh citrus fruits and avoiding artificially processed additives:

Try not to confuse the two. Citrus itself is a healing food. The isolated ingredient citric acid, however, is often corn-derived. Especially if you’re experiencing any kind of stomach pain, keep an eye out for citric acid on ingredient labels and consider skipping foods that include it.

Scientists Iliana E. Sweis, and Bryan C. Cressey also conducted a study that proved that artificial citric acid determined allergic reactions in some individuals, depending on their medical history and genetic predisposition. The study cases reported that “joint pain with swelling and stiffness, muscular pain, dyspnea, abdominal cramping and enervation that typically begin within 2–12 h of ingesting foods, beverages, or vitamins containing MCA.” 

The same people also consumed citric acid coming from natural sources, but the reports state that “None of the four individuals in these case reports develop such symptoms when ingesting natural forms of citric acid such as in lemons and limes.”

Among other known dangers caused by citric acid:

Teeth erosion: High concentrations or frequency can erode tooth enamel. This erosion can lead to dental cavities and other dental problems, especially when consumed in the form of acidic beverages like citrus juices.

Abdominal discomfort: For certain people, consuming too much citric acid might lead to stomach pain. This discomfort may present as diarrhea, bloating, or stomach pain.

Interaction with medications: It may interfere with the absorption or effect of certain medications.

Kidney Stones: Even though a moderate quantity of natural citric acid can prevent the formation of kidney stones, high quantities of the artificially obtained substance can actually determine their formation.

Most people can consume normal amounts of natural citric acid without suffering any negative consequences. Still, excessive intake may cause adverse reactions. As with other food additives and ingredients, moderation is the key. It is recommended to speak with a healthcare provider if you are concerned about your consumption of citric acid, or if you experience any of the reactions mentioned above.

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