A bacteria-derived product, xanthan gum is commonly used as a thickening and stabilizing agent in both food and medicine. Because of its binding properties, xanthan gum can serve as a replacement for gluten in foods designed for people who suffer from celiac disease.
Xanthan gum can cause migraines or skin irritation. Its side effects also include intestinal gas, flatulence, diarrhea and bloating. Increased exposure can make the symptoms worse. A 1990 report in the "Journal of Occupational Medicine" notes that people exposed to large amounts of xanthan gum powder, such as bakery workers, can experience flulike symptoms that include nose and throat irritation.
Parents and caregivers should avoid feeding their infants xanthan gum-based thickeners, products or food. A 2012 article in the “Journal of Pediatrics” noted U.S. Food and Drug Administration warnings that products containing xanthan gum have been linked to illnesses and deaths in infants. The FDA now requires that over-the-counter medications containing water-soluble gums, such as xanthan gum, must have warnings about choking on their packaging. Choking -- caused by esophageal obstruction and asphyxiation -- can occur when these medications are not taken with enough water.
- The Journal of Pediatrics: Late Onset Necrotizing Enterocolitis in Infants Following Use of a Xanthan Gum-Containing Thickening Agent
- New York Times: Warning Too Late for Some Babies
- KidsHealth: About Necrotizing Enterocolitis
- Celiac.com: Could Xanthan Gum Sensitivity Be Complicating your Celiac Disease Recovery?
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Code of Federal Regulations Title 21
- U.S. Government Printing Office: Code of Federal Regulations
- Journal of Occupational Medicine: Evaluation of Flu-Like Symptoms in Workers Handling Xanthan Gum Powder
- INCHEM.org: Toxicological Evaluation of Some Food Colours, Enzymes, Flavour Enahncers, Thickening Agents and Certain Food Additives
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Use of Xanthan Gum in Dietary Management of Diabetes Mellitus