It’s hard to walk down the aisles of any grocery store without seeing the name xanthan gum on ingredient lists. The ubiquitous food additive is used by food manufacturers to improve the texture and stability of their products. But is this thickening agent also taking its toll on our gut?

To understand that, we must first explore what xanthan gum is and how it works. In short, xanthan gum is a polysaccharide—a complex carbohydrate composed of many sugar molecules—produced by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. The bacterium is grown in a microbial fermentation process and then the xanthan gum is extracted, dried, and ground into a fine powder.

This powder has some magical properties when it comes to food. When mixed with liquids, it forms a thick, gel-like substance that can be used as a thickener, emulsifier, or stabilizer for a wide range of products. This includes everything from salad dressings to ice cream, and from gluten-free bread to toothpaste.

But what about the impact on our gut?

One of the potential concerns with xanthan gum is that it can act as a prebiotic, feeding the bacteria in our gut. While this may sound like a good thing, it is not so simple. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that can be fermented by the bacteria in our gut, producing short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids help to nourish the cells that line our gut, promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, and improve immune function.

However, xanthan gum is a highly purified form of fiber, and it may not be the best prebiotic for our gut microbiome. In fact, some studies have suggested that xanthan gum may actually have a negative impact on gut bacteria. One study found that using xanthan gum as a food ingredient led to a decrease in beneficial bacteria and an increase in harmful bacteria, leading to an overall imbalance in the gut microbiome.

Another concern is that xanthan gum, like other food additives, can cause gastrointestinal distress. This can include bloating, gas, and diarrhea, particularly in those with sensitive digestive systems. While these side effects are generally mild, they can be uncomfortable and may make it difficult to enjoy certain foods.

So what can we do about it?

If you are concerned about the impact of xanthan gum on your gut, there are a few things you can do. First, try to minimize your consumption of processed foods, which are more likely to contain xanthan gum and other additives. Instead, focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods that are rich in fiber and other beneficial nutrients.

Secondly, consider trying alternative thickeners and stabilizers in your cooking and baking. This might include ingredients like agar agar, psyllium husk, or chia seeds, which can provide similar results without the same potential negative impact on gut health.

Finally, if you do choose to consume products containing xanthan gum, pay attention to how your body reacts. If you notice any gastrointestinal distress or other symptoms, it may be worth considering alternative products or ingredients.

In the end, the impact of xanthan gum on the gut is still up for debate. While some studies suggest it may have a negative impact on gut bacteria, others have found no significant effects. Ultimately, the best approach is to pay attention to your own body and make choices that prioritize your health and well-being.


The study “Mechanistic insights into consumption of the food additive xanthan gum by the human gut microbiota” published in Nature Microbiology found that xanthan gum consumption can alter the composition and metabolic activities of the gut microbiota in certain individuals. Specifically, the authors found that xanthan gum promoted the growth of certain bacterial taxa that are associated with inflammation and metabolic disorders, while suppressing the growth of other beneficial bacterial taxa. Additionally, xanthan gum altered the production of short chain fatty acids by the gut microbiota, which are important for gut health. The authors concluded that further studies are needed to fully understand the impact of xanthan gum on gut health, and recommend caution in its use as a food additive.

The study “Dietary Xanthan Gum Alters Antibiotic Efficacy against the Murine Gut Microbiota and Attenuates Clostridioides difficile Colonization” published in the journal mSphere found that xanthan gum alters the effectiveness of antibiotics against the gut microbiota in mice, making them less effective. The authors also found that a diet containing xanthan gum helped to attenuate Clostridioides difficile colonization, which is known to cause severe infections. The study suggests that the presence of xanthan gum in the diet may have a protective effect against harmful bacteria like C. difficile, but also may have negative effects on the beneficial bacteria in the gut. The authors concluded that further studies are needed to better understand the effects of xanthan gum on gut health and antibiotic efficacy.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Always consult with a healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.

Photo by Lubo Minar

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