If you’re a label reader, you may notice that“citric acid” is an ingredient in many packaged foods. As its name implies, this compound naturally occurs in citrus fruits and is an effective preservative. It’s also a cleaning agent, an emulsifier, and lends a subtle sour flavor to foods.
Isolated by a chemist in the 18th century, citric acid came to be used as a mold inhibitor to prevent food spoilage. Oddly enough, since the early 20th century, the mold-fighting acid has been chemically manufactured from–wait for it- mold!
What Is Citric Acid?
You may be surprised to learn that almost all organic life forms contain citric acid. This antioxidant is used in a variety of metabolization processes in the body. (1)
In an average human, the body produces and metabolizes about 2 pounds of the acid every day. It then eliminates excess citric acid through urine. (2) The acid found in higher concentrations in citrus fruit (lemon and lime especially), hibiscus, cocoa, pineapple, and kiwi fruit.
What is Citrate?
Citrates is a derivative of citric acid. Sometimes, the two names are used interchangeably on food labels.(3)
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Citrate levels are higher in fruits than in other produce. But this natural substance has its downfall: routinely high levels of citrate in the body can lead to kidney stones, renal dysfunction, and bone disease (binding to calcium and weakening bone structure). The prostate, however, benefits from citrate, and produces high levels of the substance. (4)
Manufactured citrates, on the other hand, are commonly mixed with other chemicals or minerals to create the following:
- alverine citrate – a medication used for treating gastrointestinal disorders
- calcium citrate – used in medications to treat low calcium levels in blood and bones
- fentanyl citrate – an injectable analgesic (highly addictive)
- gallium citrate – a radioactive compound for medical diagnostic procedures for cancer
- magnesium citrate – used in laxatives and as a pre-operative colon cleanser
- potassium citrate – used in medication to reduce the risk of kidney stones
- sodium citrate – a preservative, emulsifying agent, and acidity regulator
- zinc citrate – a dietary supplement and personal care ingredient for odor reduction.
The Modern Citric Acid Formula
When citric acid was fist used a couple hundred years ago, it was derived from lemons. Due to rising costs, the formula has since changed. Today, it’s manufactured from black mold. Yes, black mold—the same stuff that can cause a whole host of illnesses and even death.
Here are the details of the commercial acid formula:
“Black mold is able to efficiently (and cheaply) convert sugars into citric acid. By feeding sucrose or glucose—often derived from corn starch—to the black mold, a citric acid solution is created. Corn is highly likely to be genetically modified (GMO). The resulting solution is filtered out from the mold, and the citric acid is precipitated from the solution and processed into the final, usable form using lime and sulfuric acid.” (5)
Black mold, outside of the body, damages its environment (buildings and their contents). (6) When inhaled or ingested, black mold can cause respiratory irritation, asthma, chronic fatigue, headaches, nausea and vomiting, and bleeding from the nose and lungs. (7)
Some people experience an allergic reaction to it, which isn’t exactly straightforward to diagnose. (8, 9) Unfortunately, the potential exists that some traces of the mold may remain in synthesized citric acid after processing. Hence, citric acid can create allergy-like symptoms in some people.
Also, the ingestion of any genetically modified organism (GMO) is the subject of tremendous controversy. Strictly from a health perspective, until the jury is out there is no evidence for the definitive safety of GMO in our diets or environment. Since the FDA allows it, even “organic” products can be a source of the chemical. How, may you ask? Well, Pfizer, a company with very loose morals and even larger pockets, once produced citric acid (10).