Is Citric Acid Bad for You?

Citric acid is found in many food items, it is added to many foods as a preservative and a flavor enhancer. It is also found naturally in some foods and our body is capable of producing it as well. It is a small molecule made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and its acidic nature is responsible for its preserving properties and sour taste. However, some people are concerned that citric acid might cause harm. Is it true?

Is Citric Acid Bad for You?

Citric acid is not bad for you except its ability to erode enamel from your teeth if you consume it excessively. However, do not give it to babies. Citric acid is different from ascorbic acid, which is also added to various foods as a preservative and is found in many fruits and vegetables.

The body itself produces around four pounds of citric acid every day during various metabolic processes. When we eat carbohydrates, proteins and fats, these are broken down into citrates (citric acid) and these are then converted into energy. However this is not how the citric acid we take with food is metabolized. Most of the citric acid that we consume gets excreted by the kidneys. Very little amount gets metabolized in liver cells and is converted into fats, too little to cause any negative effects.

The only damaging effect of citric acid is on the teeth, and that too can only happen if you take it in very large quantities and for a very long duration. The outer enamel can gradually wear off and the soft pulp or dentin gets exposed. A root canal is required to deal with this painful situation.

Benefits of Citric Acid

Is citric acid bad for you? No, in fact, it is associated with a lot of health benefits and most of these are due to its ability to enhance the effectiveness of various antioxidants.

  • Boosts the renal health: Citric acid improves the function of kidneys and prevents renal stone formation. Its ability to bind with calcium prevents many kidney diseases.
  • Fights free radicals: Free radicals are responsible for cell damage and aging. Antioxidants neutralize the effects of free radicals and can prevent the cell damage. Citric acid acts as an antioxidant and it also helps other antioxidants to work properly.
  • Improves absorption of minerals: Citric acid interacts with various minerals and turns them into easily absorbable form. Most of the minerals and metals get absorbed in a better way from the intestines when they interact with an acid. Citric acid provides that perfect environment.
  • Revitalizes the skin: Citric acid is extremely good for skin, many face creams and masks contain citric acid. It rejuvenates the skin cells and also lightens the pigmentation. If you are after luminous, blemish-free and younger looking skin, opt for a face cream containing citric acid.
  • Soothes sore throat: Citric acid is also an effective anti-inflammatory and can reduce swelling. This makes it a good choice to have during tonsillitis to relieve the pain and ache of sore throat. You can do gargles with citric acid mixed with some lukewarm water for instant relief. It also helps to kill the bacteria causing throat infection.
  • Helps in nausea: If you are feeling nauseous, you can try it. It interacts with stomach acid and neutralizes it, reducing the acidity.

Sources of Citric Acid

Citric acid is found in many fruits and vegetables and is also added to many food items.

  • Citric acid is found in abundance in all citric fruit. Lemons, grapefruit, oranges, clementines and tangerines are rich in it.
  • All berries contain naturally occurring citric acid except blue berries. Gooseberries, strawberries, cranberries, red and black currants are good sources of citric acid. The jams, jellies, juices made from these also have it.
  • Sourdough breads like rye bread and pumpernickel contain citric acid. It is added as a flavor enhancer and is also produced during the process of fermentation used to bake these breads.
  • Cheese also contains citric acid. It is added as a preservative and emulsifying agent to improve the texture and taste of the cheese. Soft cheeses contain more of it.  

Caution with Citric Acid Supplementation

Is citric acid bad for you? Not really, but if you are thinking of taking citric acid supplements, you need to talk to your doctor first. It can cause some side effects in people sensitive to it. Let’s see how and why you should be careful while taking it.

  • Stomach problems: Excess of everything is bad and large amounts of citric acid can cause tummy troubles. You can have abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and an upset stomach if you take it in very large quantities.
  • Dark colored stools: Sometimes citric acid consumption can result in very dark colored stools. There can be some blood in urine and in extreme cases there can be serious side effects like decreased urine output, frequent urge to pass water, fever and severe headache.
  • Low blood pressure and dizziness: Citric acid can reduce fructose absorption and this can result in very low blood pressure, which may result in dizziness, fainting and loss of consciousness.
  • Harmful for kids: Citric acid supplements are not advisable for kids and children. It interferes with absorption of certain metals and this effect can be harmful in young individuals.
  • Hair damage: Citric acid can seriously damage the texture of hair. It can lead to hair fall, thinning of hair and hair breakage. It damages the hair cuticle and can lead to hair discoloration.
  • Interactions with medication: It interacts with different medications and is not recommended to take if you are taking tetracycline or amphetamine. If you are taking any other medication, consult with your doctor before taking citric acid.
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