How xanthan gum effects the gut microbiome


Results from a new study indicate that xanthan gum, a relatively new ingredient commonly found in processed foods, may alter the gut microbiome.

The study, published in Nature Microbiology, was conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. According to the study, xanthan gum is a complex polysaccharide with unique rheological properties. The researchers set out to discover the impact that xanthan gum has on the gut microbiome. To do so, researchers examined data on human gut microbiomes around the world.

The study’s results indicated that one microbe was responsible for the processing of xanthan gum. The microbe identified was a bacterium from the family Ruminococcaceae and it appeared to process the carbohydrates in the preservative. According to the study, a separate gut bacterium known as Bacteroides intestinalis feeds on the carbohydrates produced by the Ruminococcaceae bacterium. Researchers determined that the bacteria consumption of xanthan gum most likely leads to the production of short-chain fatty acids, which according to the study, play a role in intestinal health.

The study also found that genetic signatures of these bacteria were largely nonexistent in the gut microbiome samples from people living in non-industrialized countries, implying that xanthan gum may alter the gut microbiome of those living in areas where xanthan gum is commonly consumed. When scientists fed xanthan gum to germfree mice colonized with human microbiota containing the uncultured Ruminococcaceae, the xanthan gum expanded the role of Ruminococcaceae and introduced Bacteroides intestinalis into their gut.

This study suggests the xanthan gum may have an effect of the human gut microbiome and provides a foundation for further research into the safety of the additive.

“While xanthan gum is generally considered safe, our results suggest that its widespread consumption may be enriching our microbiomes for bacteria that consume it,” said Matthew Ostrowski, PhD, one of the study’s lead authors, researcher at the University of Michigan Medical School.  “Our study is the first step in understanding how new food ingredients could be changing our microbiomes and whether these changes are good or bad.”