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Carboxymethyl Cellulose

Carboxymethyl Cellulose

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  • Summary
  • Side Effects
  • Other Names
  • Uses
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Carboxymethyl Cellulose Overview

Carboxymethyl cellulose, also known as cellulose gum or CMC, is a derivative of natural cellulose with carboxymethyl groups. Cellulose comes from all types of plants; carboxymethyl cellulose is a laboratory-created version.

Carboxymethyl cellulose is connected in part to the hydroxyl groups of methyl, ethyl and benzyl, which are glucopyranose monomers. This is called cross-linking. 

The backbone of cellulose is comprised of these. After being cross-linked, sodium carboxymethyl cellulose was developed for dietary food supplements and medicinal products, enabling disintegration at small use levels.

Potential Carboxymethyl Cellulose Side Effects

  • Diarrhea

Other Names for Carboxymethyl Cellulose

Cellulose Gum or CMC

Carboxymethyl Cellulose Nutritional Uses

  • Binder
  • Food Additive
  • Stabilizer
  • Thickening Agent
  • Disintegrant
  • Prevents Crystallization Of Sugar

Uses of Carboxymethyl Cellulose

Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose may be used in solid dietary supplements, such as sweetener tablets, as a disintegrant. Carboxymethyl cellulose is not readily absorbed in humans or animals because the molecules are too large.

Carboxymethyl cellulose is also used in laundry detergents, shampoos, and many other common household products. It is commonly used in eye drops as well to relieve dry eye.

The Safety of Carboxymethyl Cellulose

The European FDA has noted the safe use history and lack of toxicity regarding sodium carboymethyl cellulose as a dissolvent in dietary supplements. It has ruled carboxymethyl cellulose acceptable at a level that does not exceed 30g/kg. 

Due to the fact that it is not digested, food labels were to include it under dietary fiber. This is somewhat misleading, since the bloodstream does not absorb it.  

The inability of the body to absorb carboxymethyl cellulose and break down carboxymethyl cellulose does not present a problem. 99% of carboxymethyl cellulose is excreted after traveling through the digestive tract. 

Since no negative side effects are known, the FDA has categorized carboxymethyl cellulose as safe. In quoting FDA’s rating, carboxymethyl cellulose is categorized as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe), but is subject to limitations in certain foods. 

FDA limits manufacturers, by stipulating that these manufacturers are not to exceed the amount necessary for the purpose intended; therefore, the limitations are not actually specified. Manufacturers are further urged by the FDA to be in accordance with good manufacturing practices. 

The only possible side effect of carboxymethyl cellulose that was reported was diarrhea, if the product was taken in extremely high quantities. In fact, laxatives contain carboxymethyl cellulose. 

Carboxymethyl cellulose contributes to all of its applications, whether it is food, beverages, medicines and other products, without harm to humans. 

The Versatility of Carboxymethyl Cellulose

The attributes of CMC or sodium carboxymethyl cellulose is so versatile that countless products contain it, for numerous reasons. It is used as a thickening agent, as well as a disintegrant. 

Carboxymethyl cellulose binds solids and suspends them in watery products. It also prevents the crystallization of sugar, keeps fruit from settling and stagnating, stabilizes foam in fluids such as beer and improves texture.

Carboxymethyl cellulose is found in numerous foods, beverages, medicines, household goods and other industrial products, such as:

  • Diet foods
  • Jams and jellies
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Pie fillings and custards
  • Processed fruit
  • Prepared cake frosting
  • Prepared cookie dough and frozen dough
  • Ice cream and yogurt
  • Processed cheese
  • Spices, prepared seasonings and condiments
  • Beer and cider
  • Juices, concentrated beverages and syrups
  • Chocolate milk, condensed milk, powdered milk, cocoa and eggnog
  • Sausage casings and hot dogs
  • Sauces, salad dressings and dairy spreads
  • Soups and broths
  • Sweetened tablets
  • Pet foods
  • Reusable ice packs
  • Toothpaste
  • Artificial teardrops, eye lubricants, pharmaceutical medicines, ointments and creams
  • Laxatives and diet pills
  • Laundry detergents
  • Shampoo, conditioners and hair gels
  • Cosmetics, face creams and body lotions
  • Paper products

The list of products that carboxymethyl cellulose is used in is exhaustive, as its uses are not restricted or limited to foods only. It is hailed for its ability to stabilize produce and extend its shelf life.

With all of its attributes, carboxymethyl cellulose has widespread uses. Carboxymethyl cellulose can improve texture in items such as ice cream and yogurts, yet bind pharmaceutical concoctions together that would normally separate. 

With reusable ice packs, manufacturers use noncombustible ingredients, as sodium carboxymethyl cellulose will form a eutectic blend, when mixed with water and propylene glycol. This lowers the freezing point to -9.4 Fahrenheit.

With carboxymethyl cellulose, the characteristics are impressive and the uses for it are unlimited. You may read more at the Livestrong website, a partner with the Lance Armstrong Foundation which is a non-profit organization that supports cancer patients and their families. 

The FDA also cautions that the consumption of large quantities of carboxymethyl cellulose may have a laxative effect. This article is for informational purposes and is not to replace the advice of your family physician or pharmacist. 

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