What Are the Side Effects of Too Much Citric Acid?

In large amounts, almost anything can be harmful. This may include too much citrus, which contains an organic acid called citric acid. However, manufactured citric acid is different from naturally occurring citric acid.

Too much citric acid can cause a variety of problems. (Image: Merinka/iStock/GettyImages)

There's a high demand for citric acid production because it's used as a flavoring agent, preservative, cleansing agent and in many other ways. Since it's added to many prepackaged foods and is made from fungus, there are, however, concerns about citric acid side effects.

Tip

The side effects of citric acid are associated with medicines and supplements containing this ingredient. They include inflammatory symptoms and allergies, though a reaction of any kind is rare.

What Is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is found in your favorite citrus fruits, processed foods, medicines and even cleaning agents. Natural citric acid in lemons is different from manufactured citric acid found in other products, however.

When it was first discovered in the 18th century, citric acid was derived from lemon juice. Now, it's obtained by sugar fermentation. It's common practice to use a fungus or black mold called Aspergillus niger in this process.

Is Citric Acid Safe?

Since commercially made citric acid is sourced from Aspergillus niger, which is a known allergen, its safety is cause for concern.

In a 2018 study published in Toxicology Reports, researchers found that citric acid may be linked to inflammatory symptoms, such as swelling, stiffness and abdominal pain. There have been several case reports of patients exhibiting symptoms within two to 12 hours of ingesting foods containing manufactured citric acid. However, no reports exist stemming from ingestion of natural forms of citric acid, such as with too much citrus.

Despite the findings, the researchers conclude that evidence is limited and more research is needed to determine the safety of manufactured citric acid.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, citric acid falls within its "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS) designation.

Citric Acid Side Effects

Like many substances, citric acid has its pros and cons. It's considered a safe food preservative, and it may even have some health benefits. According to Cleveland Clinic, citric acid may be taken orally to balance the pH of urine, to prevent kidney stones and to treat symptoms related to kidney problems.

However, there are concerns about citric acid poisoning. In food and beverages, manufactured citric acid is present in trace amounts. Most of the citric acid side effects are associated with oral usage.

Some of the side effects associated with citric acid medicines or supplements include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Lightheadedness
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Numbness in the hands or feet

Symptoms, allergic reactions and side effects from citric acid are very rare. Few reported cases exist, though researchers press for more studies to be done on the long-term effects of manufactured citric acid.

Avoiding Citric Acid Poisoning

Citric acid poisoning from consuming too much citrus is highly unlikely. Naturally occurring citric acid has many health benefits and very few risks, but manufactured citric acid is much different.

Though it's FDA-approved, some researchers question the safety of citric acid. It's wise to be aware of the potential side effects, especially if you're allergic or sensitive to the fungi used in the manufacturing process.

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