If you buy any type of packaged food, drink, or supplement, you’ve probably seen citric acid on the label. So, what is citric acid? Although it has a name, it is actually two very different ingredients. Citrus fruits, pineapples, and berries contain natural citric acid, which acts as a natural antioxidant; then there is man-made citric acid (or MCA)—a synthetic form of citric acid commonly found in many supplements, packaged foods (and even organic foods) ), medicines, beverages, skin care and cleaning products. Unfortunately, since both types belong to the same name, it is believed that manufactured citric acid is the same as natural citric acid, which is far from the truth.
What’s wrong with artificial citric acid?
When most health-conscious people see the label and see “citric acid” as an ingredient in baby food, such as “added to maintain color” or “prevent browning”, they are not concerned because they think It’s “just a vitamin C” and a little more vitamin C should be a good thing, right? Yes, most of us could use more natural vitamin C in our diet; “vitamin C and natural” is the key word here,manufacturing citric acid certainly isn’t. Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables along with citric acid, but they have different properties.
MCA is an inexpensive synthetic citric acid used as a preservative and vitamin enricher in the vast majority of conventional, natural and organic processed foods and beverages. It’s an excitotoxin, which means it affects the brain, gut, is a weight gainer, and more. It is also an ingredient in skin care products, cleaning products, medicines, wine and cosmetics.
Unlike the natural citric acid found in fruit, MCA is made from Aspergillus niger (aka: black mold), a known and very common allergen sugar from genetically modified corn or sugar beets. Now that you know where MCA comes from, you can see why it can be very harmful to humans (and pets). However, it is generally considered safe by the FDA (although there is no scientific evidence to support that designation) and millions of people consume it multiple times a day with no apparent allergic reaction or awareness of its effects. Synthetic citric acid is not part of our food or household products.
What is the harm of citric acid to the human body?
Citric acid is one of the most common food additives in the world. Like many food additives, its effects aren’t immediate, so people don’t bond. It is especially important to understand its possible effects on developing infants and children. Removing excitotoxic additives (such as citric acid) from the diet of nursing mothers has resolved reflux and digestive difficulties, developmental and sleep problems in many of the babies I have worked with. Parents of children with learning and sensory disabilities report rapid reductions in symptoms when chemicals such as citric acid are removed. Adults with digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic diarrhea, and reflux report that eating foods that contain citric acid worsens their symptoms. While my experience will be considered anecdotal evidence, research is finally done and is beginning to reveal the very real and potentially harmful effects of this so-called GRAS ingredient.
In a 2018 Toxicology Report 4 published by Science Direct, researchers described four people who had repeated inflammatory reactions to products containing artificial citric acid. Their symptoms include: joint pain, respiratory distress, irritable bowel syndrome, cramps, weakness and muscle pain. The researchers believe that MCA can produce a significant inflammatory cascade that affects certain people, depending on their genetic predisposition and susceptibility. I observed the same reaction in clients who reported these seemingly “random” inflammatory symptoms after eating only one citric acid-containing food.
If you suffer from any type of acute or chronic excitatory or inflammatory symptoms, you may want to try removing citric acid from your diet (this includes food and drinks, including wine).
Citric Acid in Skin Care and Cleaning Products
70% of the world’s MCA is used in food and beverages, and another 30% is used in skin care and cleaning products, among others.
In skin care, citric acid is used as an alpha hydroxy acid to promote peeling and as an anti-aging ingredient (think vitamin C night serum, etc.). It can also help clear up certain types of skin breakouts thanks to its antibacterial properties…but if you have sensitive skin, including redness, rashes, and itching, it can do some real damage. In addition to local reactions, it can also irritate the nasal passages and even trigger an asthma attack5 when inhaled,so be aware of this if you have asthma or lung problems. Remember, it’s also used as a preservative in deodorants, lipsticks, and hairsprays.
In cleaning products, MCA can be used as a degreaser, fragrance, solvent and pH adjuster. Compared to other toxic ingredients found in cleaning and laundry products, it’s not the worst.but not great either, as it can irritate your skin and get into the air, which can irritate your lungs and make breathing difficult ( as above). Therefore, we do not recommend the use of cleaning products made from MCA. Because MCA acts as an antibacterial, antifungal, and algaecide, it is often found in chemical or natural household products that work against bacteria, mold, and algae, as well as those with a citrus scent.
How to Avoid Citric Acid
Citric acid is common in packaged foods and beverages, but that doesn’t mean you can’t avoid it! Just read the label and choose a citric acid-free product. For example, some more advanced companies are now using lemon juice instead of applesauce or lemon juice in baby food. For supplements, look for good sources of vitamin C, such as Camu Camu and Acerola.
The same goes for skin care, read those ingredient labels, choose natural skin care products, and unless otherwise stated, you can pretty much assume that anything labeled “vitamin C” contains citric acid. Special note: Citric acid is also common in synthetic and more “natural” hand sanitizers, so buyers beware. When in doubt, share your concerns when asking the company directly. It’s these calls and emails that help highlight ingredient issues within the industry.
As always, don’t assume a product contains no harmful ingredients just because it says “natural,” “non-toxic,” or “environmentally friendly.”