Citric acid is a weak, water-soluble acid found in citrus fruits and some vegetables. It gives them a sour taste. It is highly concentrated in lemons, where it can comprise as much as 8 percent of the dry weight.
The interesting thing is that citric acid is produced in our bodies in huge amounts (something like 1.5- 2 kilograms daily, in fact) but is also quickly metabolized.
In the year 1953 Sir Hans Krebs received the Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering the important role of the Citric acid in a series of chemical reactions used by all aerobic organisms to generate energy. You can read more in Wikipedia, about the citric acid cycle, also known as The Krebs Cycle.
At one point in our recent history some smart guy read about The Krebs Cycle. The world “krebs” translates to English word “cancer” … and that’s what created the misunderstanding that citric acid causes cancer. But in fact, it does not.
There’s no special relationship between citric acid and ascorbic acid, just two different chemicals.
It seems the citric acid we eat isn’t used by the body at all. There’s no need to eat it. But citric acid is widely used in the food industry as a flavor enhances and preservative, because of its low price and its ease of production.
The use of the citric acid is approved in the EU, E Number: E330
The United States Food and Drug Administration considers also citric acid to be safe when used as a food additive.
The acid was first artificially produced from citrus fruits but this technique was inefficient and only produced small quantities. Today citric acid is manufactured through the use of Aspergillus Niger, a mold that feeds on cheap corn syrup glucose
Increased acidity prevents bacterial and fungal growth, therefore prolonging the life of the food or drink. It also helps preserve flavor and maintains pH at a suitable level to prevent food degradation, especially canned food.
Certain companies use it to give their food products, such as sweets and soft drinks, an “authentic” fruity flavor.
Why do they add citric acid when canning tomatoes?
Tomatoes were once considered an acid food that could be safely canned without any additive. However, because of the potential for botulism when some newer, less acidic tomato varieties are canned, certain precautions must now be taken.
The citric acid is also commonly found in various cosmetic products. It is added to adjust the pH level of creams, lotions and gels to coincide with our natural skin pH level.
In detergents, shampoos and soap, the citric acid is added so that foam is more easily produced. It also increases the efficiency of these products as it helps dissolve stains more quickly.
The citric acid is favored over other additives because it is environmentally friendly, biodegradable and is relatively harmless.
While citric acid is generally safe, side effects do occur if an excess of the acid is used or consumed. The entire digestive system can be irritated, causing heartburn and damage to the mucous membrane of the stomach.
Symptoms of citric acid in excess can include stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
Also the eyes, the respiratory organs and the skin can suffer with scratchy sensations from over-consumption of citric acid.
People with sensitive skin should avoid using creams containing citric acid as it may cause irritation or a rash to form.
Some doctors say that citric acid can damage teeth. The effects of citric acid on teeth have been known since at least the 1970’s when the Journal of the American Dental Association presented a report indicating that the habitual use and abuse of foods containing the acid was linked to serious erosion of tooth enamel. Other scientific research have confirmed this research. It seems it’s especially harmful to babies and children.
Many baby foods commercially available have small amounts of citric acid added to them as a preservative. A solution to cutting down on the amount of citric acid your baby ingests is by making your own baby food.
Except for some people which are allergic or have an intolerance to it, researchers are telling us that in small amounts, Citric Acid is harmless.
But…. If you read the labels on vegetable cans, soft drinks, jam, fruit yogurt, cookies or some processed meat product there’s a big chance you’ll find citric acid among ingredients.
Is this citric acid in “small amounts”? Is there any study on the effect of these “small amounts” of artificially citric acid on a long term, besides maybe the teeth damage?
My best advice is that, until we learn more about citric acid, you should try to limit consumption of products containing artificially produced citric acid, whenever possible, but without becoming obsessed.
How about a fresh lemonade, made with fresh lemon juice, bit of sugar, honey and a bit of ginger and mint? Don’t wait for the summer, it’s perfect now to prevent season colds. Best remedy if you already have the nasty cold.