Those suffering from heart disease and Type 2 diabetes might soon find help in a substance typically used to thicken liquids.
Xanthan gum — often used as a thickening agent in the manufacturing of products like toothpaste, medicine, and certain foods — has been found to lower blood sugar, according to a new study published in the Journal of Functional Foods.
The team of researchers from Tokyo Medical and Dental University discovered that consuming the fluid thickener can help raise the body’s insulin response, improve fat metabolism, and aid in the function of the gut microbiome.
Xanthan gum is not the first food to produce this effect. Vinegar has similarly been shown to lower blood sugar when consumed with a meal.
A 2015 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the National Library of Medicine, found vinegar produced “a glucose-lowering effect in patients with glucose abnormalities,” though the study concluded the mechanism controlling the effect was unclear.
Metabolic disorders, like Type 2 diabetes, are linked to heightened blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. The accumulation of glucose occurs because a person’s body cannot utilize insulin effectively. Over time, excess blood glucose can cause organ, nerve, and blood vessel damage.
According to the new study, xanthan gum is a “viscous soluble fiber that forms a non-diffusible aqueous layer.” This layer ultimately “inhibits nutrient absorption by prolonging absorption time,” helping manage blood sugar.
Still, the study went on to say that “the biological effects of fluid thickener” on blood glucose levels after a meal “have not been fully clarified,” nor has the thickener’s impact on “gene expression in the gastrointestinal tract and gut microbiome.”
To conduct the findings, the authors studied two groups of rats over five weeks. The first group of rodents was given xanthan gum, while the other received saline.
The rats that received the thickening agent experienced lower blood sugar levels 60 and 90 minutes after eating compared to their saline-consuming peers.
Senior author Haruka Tohara said that the findings were “very interesting.”
According to Tohara, “Giving thickened liquid decreased blood glucose levels associated with Glp1 and Glp1r expression in the ileum,” which according to Britannica is a part of the small intestine that helps with digestion.
The authors also discovered that gut microbial composition changed after consuming xanthan gum. The thickening liquid led to a rise in the “good” intestinal bacteria. These bacteria create short-chain fatty acids that protect the insulin-secreting cells of the intestine and pancreas.
While the findings are encouraging for people suffering from conditions like Type 2 diabetes, the compound can cause digestive stress for some. Though xanthan gum is generally considered safe, it can have a laxative effect after consumption in rare cases.
“Consumed in moderation, these gums should be safe for most people to consume,” according to registered dietician nutritionist Amy Gorin.
One of the largest problems in the country, obesity is a significant contributor to developing metabolic disorders like Type 2 diabetes.