Citric acid, the most commonly used natural food preservative and additive, is generally innocuous. However, its frequent or excessive intake may weaken the tooth enamel thus making your teeth more susceptible to tooth decay, cavities or infection. It also increases aluminum toxicity in the body which may lead to renal dysfunction, anemia, or neurobehavioral alterations.
Just the mention of citric acid reminds us of the sour kick of lemons and the zesty tang of oranges. Citric acid occurs naturally in a lot of vegetables and fruits but is most concentrated in ‘citrus fruits’ like orange, sweet lime, pomelo, grapefruit, lemon, lime, clementine, and tangerine. It has antioxidant qualities and also occurs naturally in our metabolism. It is a natural preservative and is also used as a powerful cleaning agent in household cleaners. It is used in a lot of packaged foods to impart a sour flavor and for its preservative effects.
Once upon a time citric acid was produced by extracting it from lemons. However, cheaper alternatives to produce it have led to its mass scale use in several processed and packaged foods. Industrial citric acid is mainly produced by the fungi Aspergillus niger that causes black mold on fruits and vegetables. It is fermented using a variety of ingredients like sugar and corn to produce citric acid. Today, it is an indispensable part of the food and beverage industry and is added to aerated beverages, wines, jams, jellies, ketchup, juices, processed cheese, ice-creams, sorbets, baby foods, canned foods, chips and other ready-to-eat snacks. Citric acid is also used in certain medication. The global production of citric acid in 2004 was 1.4 million tonnes!1
Citric acid comes with its own caveat. While it is recommended in some conditions, it also has some side effects. So is citric acid safe? Should we stay away from it? What are the side effects of citric acid? Is natural citric acid good or bad for our health? Let’s find out all this and more.
The Good Part
Citric acid is proven to be beneficial in treating and preventing kidney stones. It inhibits stone formation and dissolves the small ones that are in the initial stages of being formed. The most common type of kidney stones is made of calcium. Those with a tendency to form kidney stones are mostly found to have inadequate levels of citrate in their urine. To increase that, it is recommended that such people should increase their citrus fruit consumption. Drinking orange juice is suggested as an easy way to prevent kidney stones by increasing urinary citrate. Having lemonade every day can also help, as lemons have the highest concentration of natural citric acid.2 Citrus fruits are also found to be beneficial in preventing anemia and neural tube defects.
Blackcurrant juice has also been reported to support kidney stone treatment. According to a study comparing it with plum and cranberry juice, blackcurrant juice increased the urinary pH and excretion of citric acid. Because of its alkalizing effect, blackcurrant juice emerged as a good aid to the treatment.3
The Bad Part
Dental erosion is a common off-shoot of having too much citric acid in your diet. Since most beverages contain citric acid, the teeth naturally come into direct contact with it. Citric acid and calcium (which your teeth are made of) do not get along. If citric acid can dissolve calcium stones in your kidneys, it can also erode (if not dissolve) your teeth. In fact, according to a study, the damage caused to your teeth when you drink aerated beverages or even diet soda is the same as consuming illegal drugs! When three persons with a history or consuming meth, cocaine and diet soda were examined, it was found that the participants had the same type and severity of tooth erosion. The citric acid found in both regular soda and diet soda is known to be highly responsible for tooth erosion.4
Another study gives some hope to those who end up consuming a lot of citric acid in one form or the other. The effect of mineral supplements was studied on enamel erosion caused by citric acid. It was found that citric acid when supplemented with a mixture of calcium, phosphate, and fluoride, protected the teeth from eroding to some extent. However, the enamel erosion could not be completely prevented.5
So now you know why doctors advise you against guzzling soda!
The Ugly Part
Citric acid is known to increase the absorption of aluminum in your body.6
Now you may wonder how aluminum gets into your body unless you’re consuming foil. Well, that’s not the only way. Aluminum sneaks itself into your system through antacids and other medication like some vaccines, baking powder, food colorings, emulsifiers in cheese spreads and more. According to a study, rats fed with citric acid were found to have elevated aluminum concentrations in the cerebral cortex and bones. Those fed with aluminum citrate showed significantly high aluminum concentrations in all brain regions.7
When too much aluminum accumulates in the body (mostly in bones, kidneys, and brain in humans), evidence suggests that it leads to renal dysfunction, anemia, and neurobehavioral alterations.8
Aluminum is a neurotoxicant for animals and humans and has been linked with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.9
Are you still wondering if citric acid is safe?
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Soccol, Carlos R., Luciana PS Vandenberghe, Cristine Rodrigues, and Ashok Pandey. “New perspectives for citric acid production and application.” Food Technology and Biotechnology 44, no. 2 (2006): 141.|
|2.||↑||Economos, C., and W. D. Clay. “Nutritional and health benefits of citrus fruits.” Energy (kcal) 62, no. 78 (1999): 37.|
|3.||↑||Kebler, T., B. Jansen, and A. Hesse. “Effect of blackcurrant-, cranberry-and plum juice concuption of risk factors associated with kidney stone formation.” European journal of clinical nutrition 56, no. 10 (2002).|
|4.||↑||Academy of General Dentistry. “Soda and illegal drugs cause similar damage to teeth: Acids erode enamel.” ScienceDaily. (accessed November 25, 2016).|
|5.||↑||Attin, T., K. Meyer, E. Hellwig, W. Buchalla, and A. M. Lennon. “Effect of mineral supplements to citric acid on enamel erosion.” Archives of oral biology 48, no. 11 (2003): 753-759.|
|6.||↑||Slanina, P., W. Frech, L. G. Ekström, L. Lööf, S. Slorach, and A. Cedergren. “Dietary citric acid enhances absorption of aluminum in antacids.” Clinical chemistry 32, no. 3 (1986): 539-541.|
|7.||↑||Slanina, P., Y. Falkeborn, W. Frech, and A. Cedergren. “Aluminium concentrations in the brain and bone of rate fed citric acid, aluminium citrate or aluminium hydroxide.” Food and chemical toxicology 22, no. 5 (1984): 391-397.|
|8.||↑||Krewski, Daniel, Robert A. Yokel, Evert Nieboer, David Borchelt, Joshua Cohen, Jean Harry, Sam Kacew, Joan Lindsay, Amal M. Mahfouz, and Virginie Rondeau. “Human health risk assessment for aluminum, aluminum oxide, and aluminum hydroxide.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B 10, no. S1 (2007): 1-269.|
|9.||↑||Yokel, R. A. “The toxicology of aluminum in the brain: a review.” Neurotoxicology 21, no. 5 (2000): 813.|