Xanthan gum is a common additive in foods, medications and cosmetics; so common, in fact that most of us probably get several doses of it every day. For many people, perhaps that isn't a problem, but for some, it may be causing mysterious flu-like symptoms, including fever, muscle aches and joint pain. Other possible side effects include constipation, diarrhea and bloating. People who have Fibromyalgia, Celiac Disease, Arthritis, or another autoimmune disease are most at risk.
Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide (sugar like substance) made by mixing fermented sugars with the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. Xanthan gum may be grown or cultured on wheat, corn, soy or dairy products.
It is used as a thickening or stabilizing agent in some toothpastes, cosmetics and medications. In foods, it may be used to thicken and add texture, such as creaminess, smoothness or chewiness. It can be found in most salad dressings, many ice creams, canned soups, baked goods and other food products. The creaminess of the ice cream, the stickiness that makes the dressing cling to the lettuce, the fact that the whipped topping stays whipped instead of separating into water and oils - all these are things for which xanthan gum is especially useful.
Because it can reproduce certain qualities gluten is commonly used for in baking, xanthan gum is extremely common in gluten free baking mixes and packaged gluten free products, such as flour, cookies, cake, crackers, bread, and pizza dough. The chewiness of the cookie, the stickiness that holds the bread together, the crispy edges of the pizza crust - all these qualities depend on gluten, or its handy substitute, xanthan gum.
Sounds great, doesn't it? It is, unless you happen to be one of the people who reacts to xanthan gum in a negative way. If you have mystery symptoms that haven't been eliminated by cutting out gluten wheat, soy, dairy, or whatever other substances you are a sensitive to, xanthan gum may be your hidden culprit. The best way to be sure is to eliminate it from your diet for a few weeks and see if you feel better.
If you do decide to give up xanthan gum, you'll need to read a lot of labels because it pops up where you least expect it. Most salad dressings contain it. Ice cream, cream cheese, frozen whipped topping, and other popular foods are all possible hiding places for xanthan gum. Generic and store brands are more likely to depend on xanthan gum in some cases, such as ice cream, whipped topping and cream cheese, while major labels are more likely to have alternative ingredients that may be less likely to provoke a negative reaction in sensitive consumers.
If you do find yourself feeling better after a trial elimination of xanthan gum, you may have to make your own salad dressing and spend an extra few dollars for major brand names in some of your favorite products to insure you'll be at your best. With the extra energy you gain, making your own salad dressing won't be such a big deal, and the money you save on pain relief medication and fewer sick days could easily make up the difference!