Citric acid is basically just lemon or lime juice, right?
And if it likely had something harmful in it, the USDA would tell us, right?
And if an ingredient were made from toxic black mold—in China—the USDA would require safety testing before allowing it in thousands of foods and supplements, right?
Ok, so are you as surprised as I was? These are among the facts I learned in this 2018 article: Potential role of the common food additive manufactured citric acid in eliciting significant inflammatory reactions contributing to serious disease states: A series of four case reports.
This article reports a number of important things that we need to know…especially if we struggle with inflammation, MCAS, allergies, hypersensitivities or autoimmunity:
- Citric acid is an ingredient found in thousands of food products and supplements. Read your labels. You probably ate some at your last meal.
- Naturally-occurring citric acid comes from lemons, limes, and other fruits or veggies, however that’s not the type used in most foods. Nowadays the vast majority is “manufactured” citric acid (MCA), which is made industrially.
- How is it “manufactured”? It is produced by a fungus…a toxic black mold. Yes, you read that correctly. To quote the article: “Approximately 99% of the world production of MCA is through microbial processes using predominantly a mutant strain of the black mold Aspergillus niger.”
- Impurities—i.e., fragments of the toxic mold—likely get into the citric acid, where they would be expected to cause immune reactions.
- Because MCA has the same molecular shape as natural citric acid, the USDA allowed it to enter the food market without testing. They never considered that fragments of the mold might contaminate the product.
The researchers go on to say:
“We provide evidence with four case reports that ingestion of foods, beverages or supplements containing MCA may lead to increased inflammation, which in susceptible individuals affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, neurological and musculoskeletal systems.”
Many of the symptoms they describe will sound familiar if you have autoimmunity, MCAS or POTS. They describe 4 patients who get symptoms within hours of ingesting MCA, but not when they consume naturally-occurring citric acid. They go on to explain how repeated exposure could result in a number serious inflammatory conditions:
“Given the ubiquitous presence of MCA and repetitive exposure to it through ingesting common foods and beverages, we may be re-introducing small amounts of A. niger proteins or byproducts into our bodies, and repeatedly eliciting an insidious low grade immune response. With the repetitive exposure and insult, the immune system maintains a low grade inflammatory response. Over time, the chronic inflammatory state can impact various systems in the body depending on the individual’s weaker or compromised organ system. Ingestion of the MCA leads to an inflammatory cascade which manifests differently in different individuals based on their genetic predisposition, susceptibility and underling medical history, as well as the degree of stress exerted by environmental factors. We further hypothesize that these inflammatory reactions may play a causative role in allergic asthma, FM, JIA, and possibly CFS, and lead to increased inflammation in the musculoskeletal system leading to idiopathic joint and muscle inflammation/pain and inflammation in the gastro-intestinal system leading to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.”
They go on to say that there has been no safety testing of MCA, even though it’s in thousands of products for all ages and populations.
I don’t plan to wait for research. My body needs all the help it can get, so anything made by toxic mutant black mold is off my menu. I recommend reading the article. It’s a good reminder that every ingredient has a backstory, and some of them would surprise us! Here’s the link again: Potential role of the common food additive manufactured citric acid in eliciting significant inflammatory reactions contributing to serious disease states: A series of four case reports.