Citric Acid: Benefits, Uses & Side Effects

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Citric acid is a normal component of human cells that is metabolized, degraded, and eliminated from the body. Also known as E330, it is one of the main ingredients in the food and beverage industry because it is easily obtained in large quantities, healthy and cheap. It is often used for proper mineral supplementation of food, as an acidity regulator, and as a flavor compound. Citric acid enhances the activity of many beneficial antioxidants, but is not, itself, an antioxidant.

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The cycle that citric acid undergoes in the human body is called the Krebs cycle, named after Hans Adolf Krebs, who received a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for its discovery in 1953. It actually refers to the physiological oxidation of fats, proteins and carbohydrates into carbon dioxide and water. During this cycle, eight enzymes help produce energy through aerobic respiration. Citric acid is an alkalizing agent. Despite being an acid since most people will say you can’t be alkalinizing if your an acid which is not true. It is able to decrease the level of acidity in body fluids. It can bind with excess calcium and allow it to leave the body. Despite its many health benefits, you should not take citric acid without first consulting your physician.

A Natural Medicine

Citric acid is both a natural and an artificially obtained acid. It is found naturally in every living being: plant (conifer, tobacco leaf) or animal, as in the human tissues and body fluids. In addition, it is present in a large variety of fruits (lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, kiwis, strawberries, apples, pears, cherries and raspberries) and vegetables (mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes, peas and asparagus). Citric acid was first artificially produced in 1784 from lemon juice, by Karl Wilhelm Scheele. It can also be obtained through bio-technology processes for industrial purposes by fermenting the citrus glucose (sugary substance), sucrose or molasses (syrup by-product of sugar cane) in combination with the fungus called “Aspergillus niger.”

What It Is Used For

Citric acid is used for its health benefits and as in food, alcohol and insecticide production. It is the most frequently used preservative in the world today. The lemon salt has been used for centuries to conserve meat and fish. It increases the acidity of the bacterial environment, making it difficult for it and the microbes to survive and, most importantly, to reproduce. It is called lemon salt because it was first extracted from a lemon. It looks like a semi-transparent salt and it has no odor. It has a sour, acid taste.

Medical Benefits

  1. Kidney Stones: Administered while drinking lemonade, citric acid prevents the formation of kidney stones and ensures proper functioning of the kidneys. Citric acid’s ability to chelate calcium and its alkalizing properties make it useful as a method for preventing kidney stones as well as several other kidney ailments.
  2. Anti-oxidant: As an anti-oxidant, citric acid may be able to neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals, unstable compounds that can accumulate in the body and can trigger the growth of cancerous tumours. 
  3. Mineral absorption: Specialists say that the citric acid associates itself with minerals and metals easily, a trait which accelerates their absorption into the body.
  4. Skin Care: Citric acid is a common ingredient found in face packs and skin products. It is considered an antioxidant that can help the regeneration of skin tissue and slowing down the aging process.
  5. Skin Color: In the case of stained skin or freckles, the use of a cream rich in citric acid will have a depigmentation effect.
  6. Sore Throat: Citric acid is of great help when a person has tonsillitis. Gargling with a combination of citric acid and water will clear the infection from the throat because it effectively kills the germs that are causing the infection.
  7. Nausea: Citric acid can quickly and effectively reduce nausea by reducing the gastric acidity.

Despite its many health benefits, it is important that you avoid citric acid without first consulting a doctor. Citric acid supplementation can cause a variety of side effects, including vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain.

Other Uses

  1. Flavor: Citric acid provides flavor to aliments, sweets and to soft drinks and alcoholic drinks.
  2. Food Production: It strengthens the gelatin in jams and slows down the oxidation process in fruits and fruit products, by combining itself with the naturally present metals and preventing their discoloration. Citric acid is often used for creating the proper environment for the enzyme activity in the process of cheese making. It can also be used for making ice cream because it helps the fat cells in dairy separate.
  3. Pest Control: Citric acid is known to have the ability to destroy bacteria, mold, viruses and rust, and therefore was used in the production of pesticides, fungicides and disinfectants solutions. 
  4. Alcohol Production: Sometimes, citric acid is added to wine, if the grapes used have low acidity to improve the taste. When manufacturing beer, citric acid reduces the sugar loss from the barley as it germinates. Therefore, more of the sugar turns to alcohol, and beer production is optimized. 
  5. Drugs: Citric acid is used in the manufacture of medicinal products and in bio-technology industries. It is combined with sodium bicarbonate for medicines such as Alka-Seltzer.

Side Effects

  1. Stomach upset: Taking supplementation of citric acid can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite and abdominal pain.
  2. Yellow skin or eyes: These symptoms can occur, although they are rare.
  3. Bloody or black, tarry stool:  Discoloured stools or bloody or cloudy urine are more serious symptoms. You may also have a fever, headache, frequent urge to urinate or a decrease in the amount of urine.
  4. Dizziness or loss of blood pressure: Citric acid can cause a loss of fructose absorption which can lead to a sudden drop of blood pressure, dizziness, decreased attention and fainting.
  5. Affects infant health: Citric acid can affect the absorption of heavy metals like cadmium and lead into the blood. Citric acid supplementation is not recommended for babies or children.
  6. Can Weaken Hair: The acid opens the hair cuticle and it may also remove minerals from the hair. It may lead to its degradation, discoloration or breakage.
  7. Drug Interactions: Citric acid may interact with aluminum salts, tetracyclines like doxycycline, amphetamines and anorexiants drugs like phentermine.

Citric acid is a key component of the natural aerobic process of respiration. The naturally occurring acid is also a key ingredient to many household products and medicines. It can be used for certain health complaints such as kidney stones or nausea. However, citric acid supplementation is not recommended without first consulting a doctor. It can, even in small quantities cause stomach upsets, vomiting and abdominal pain.

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