Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Microcrystalline Cellulose Bad For You?

Also Known As: MCC, E460(i)



Short answer

Microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) is considered safe by health authorities like the FDA and EFSA, designated as GRAS and widely used in food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics without significant health risks. While rare, some individuals might experience sensitivities or allergic reactions to MCC.



Long answer

Defining Microcrystalline Cellulose and Its Common Uses

Microcrystalline cellulose, often referred to by the abbreviation MCC, is a refined wood pulp derivative used in the food industry as an emulsifier, anti-caking agent, fat substitute, and bulking agent. This fine white powder is an incredibly versatile ingredient and is also considered an inert substance, which means it passes through the digestive system without being absorbed. It's the product of depolymerized cellulose, which occurs when cellulose - the structural component in plants - is treated with minerals and then purified.

The main allure of MCC is its excellent binding properties. It can create a stable, yet non-crumbly texture in products, which is why you'll often find it in tablet formations in the pharmaceutical industry. But its application doesn't stop there. Let's uncover some common uses of microcrystalline cellulose:

  • Pharmaceuticals: Used as an excipient in tablets, helping to give consistent weight and strength, and aiding in the dissolution of the tablet.
  • Food production: Acts as a filler or fiber source, providing texture and mouthfeel without significantly affecting taste in products such as low-fat ice creams, cheese, and bakery items.
  • Dietary Supplements: Incorporated as a bulking agent in vitamins to maintain pill consistency and promote proper absorption into the body.
  • Cosmetics: Utilized as a texturizer and filler in personal care products like lotions and creams.

Extensive research has been conducted on the safety and effects of microcrystalline cellulose. Studies suggest that MCC, due to its non-digestible nature, can be seen as a dietary fiber. One such study published in the "International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition" examined the use of microcrystalline cellulose as a source of dietary fiber, concluding that it exhibits beneficial properties similar to those of natural fiber.

Moreover, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified it as a Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) substance, indicating that experts consider it safe when used in accordance with its intended purpose. MCC is also approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and other international regulatory bodies, reflecting its widespread acceptance in the food and pharmaceutical industries across the globe.

It's important to note, however, that while MCC is a food additive, it comes with its own set of guidelines and limitations regarding its use. The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) recommended by regulatory agencies is established based on available scientific data to ensure consumer safety.

In the world of cooking and baking, MCC can be a boon for those seeking texture without adding unnecessary calories or altering flavor profiles radically. Home cooks and professional chefs alike may leverage microcrystalline cellulose to innovate in gluten-free recipes or enhance the mouthfeel of reduced-calorie dishes. Its role in modern kitchens continues to evolve as an ingredient in the nexus of culinary science and health-conscious gastronomy.

Debunking Myths: Is Microcrystalline Cellulose a Wood Pulp?

Many of us are on a journey to decode the complex language of food labels. One ingredient that frequently pops up and causes a stir is microcrystalline cellulose (MCC). Commonly misunderstood as mere “wood pulp,” this additive has been the subject of various myths. But what really is MCC? Let me take you through a detailed exploration, separating fact from fiction.

Firstly, it's essential to understand what cellulose is. Cellulose is a type of carbohydrate and the most abundant organic polymer on the planet. It’s not just found in trees; essentially all plants produce cellulose as part of their cellular structure. This makes cellulose a natural and integral part of our food system, especially in high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Microcrystalline cellulose is derived from cellulose, and yes, it is true that wood – being a rich source of cellulose – can be used in its production. However, the term "wood pulp" dramatically oversimplifies and misrepresents the final product. The process of creating MCC involves several steps:

  • Extracting pure cellulose from plant fiber sources, which could include wood.
  • Hydrolyzing the cellulose to remove non-crystalline regions, a natural process that can also occur during digestion.
  • Refining, purifying, and milling the cellulose to create a fine, white, odorless powder that is both chemically and biologically inert.

It's important to emphasize that the source of the cellulose isn't inherently detrimental to the safety or dietary legitimacy of MCC. Moreover, the production process ensures that the final product is far from the raw wood material that it may have originated from. The International Food Additive Council states that MCC is a purified plant fiber, and it exhibits no properties of the original plant once it's processed. It doesn't resemble wood at all in appearance, taste, or texture.

For those keeping score, here's the key takeaway: MCC should be viewed through the lens of dietary fiber – it’s neither absorbed nor digested by the body and can aid in gastrointestinal health. Its inclusion in food products serves practical purposes, such as improving texture and preventing clumping, without introducing any meaningful caloric content.

Claims that equate microcrystalline cellulose with wood pulp fail to recognize the substantial transformation and purification the ingredient undergoes during manufacturing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies MCC as safe, and it's widely used around the world as an excipient in pharmaceuticals and as an additive in food.

However, like any ingredient, the context of its use matters. If you primarily consume whole, unprocessed foods, you'll naturally consume less MCC. But if you're enjoying a packaged product for convenience or pleasure, MCC's presence isn't a red flag, but rather a testament to modern food science aimed at maintaining product quality.

To put it in the simplest terms: microcrystalline cellulose is to wood pulp what table sugar is to sugarcane—an extraction that, while originating from a raw material, has been transformed into something quite different and specifically refined for its intended use. So, while yes, MCC may start its journey in the forest, by the time it makes its way into our food, it's become a completely different entity.

Assessing Digestive Tolerance to Microcrystalline Cellulose

Microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) isn't just a mouthful to say, it's a common food additive found in many products lining supermarket shelves. Used primarily as an anti-caking agent, bulking agent, or to improve texture, MCC escapes the notice of many conscientious eaters. But is it gentle on your digestive system? Let's munch on the facts together.

First off, microcrystalline cellulose is derived from cellulose, the most abundant organic polymer on Earth. It's the stuff that gives plants their structural strength—which sounds excellent for trees, but what about our stomachs?

Research indicates that MCC is non-digestible; our gastrointestinal tract lacks the enzymes to break down cellulose. However, non-digestibility does not equal poor tolerance. As a form of dietary fiber, MCC typically passes through the gut without being absorbed.

Here's what we know about its digestive tolerance:

  • Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS): The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorizes MCC as GRAS, suggesting that moderate consumption is unlikely to cause health risks.
  • Impact on Gut Bacteria: A study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition did not find significant effects of MCC on the gut microbiota. However, as a fiber, it can potentially have some positive prebiotic effects, supporting good bacteria in the gut.
  • Laxative Effect: At high intake levels, MCC could have a laxative effect due to its fibrous nature. This is potentially beneficial for those needing a mild stool softener but might cause digestive discomfort in sensitive individuals.
  • Satiety and Bowel Regularity: Fiber is known for promoting a feeling of fullness and supporting regular bowel movements. So, in controlled amounts, MCC might contribute to satiety and bowel regularity, although it shouldn't be relied upon as a primary fiber source.
  • Potential for Allergic Reactions: Although rare, some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to MCC. Symptoms could include hives, difficulty breathing, or gastrointestinal distress.

It's important to take into account dosage and individual tolerance. While there are no precise guidelines for MCC consumption, the rule of thumb with any additive is moderation. Those with sensitive digestive systems or conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may want to keep a close eye on their reaction to products containing MCC.

Remember, beloved food explorers, our bodies can react uniquely to ingredients that are generally considered safe. Listening closely to your body's signals after consuming foods with additives like microcrystalline cellulose can guide you on whether it's a suitable ingredient for you. As always, if you're unsure, discuss with a healthcare provider or a dietitian to clarify its place in your diet.

A holistic approach to health acknowledges that the sum of what we consume impacts our well-being. Understanding each ingredient's role, including MCC, adds to our knowledge and empowers us to make better food choices for our personal health narratives. So let's continue to question, learn, and nibble our way to knowledge and vitality. Bon appétit to thoughtfulness in eating!

Potential Allergic Reactions and Sensitivity Issues

Mindfulness about what we ingest is crucial in maintaining our well-being, and that includes being vigilant about potential allergic reactions and sensitivity issues to food additives like microcrystalline cellulose, which is often referred to by its E-number, E460. Though this additive is generally recognized as safe by health authorities, there's always a pocket of individuals who may experience sensitivity issues. Let's explore these potential reactions and understand their implications for those facing such challenges.

Understanding Microcrystalline Cellulose Allergies

Allergies to microcrystalline cellulose itself are quite rare. However, as with any allergen, individual experiences may vary and some people might be sensitive to cellulose derivatives. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild to severe and typically present as:

  • Skin irritations (such as hives, eczema, or itching)
  • Respiratory issues (like wheezing, coughing, or difficulty breathing)
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances (including nausea, diarrhea, or abdominal pain)

Recognizing Sensitivity to Microcrystalline Cellulose

Some individuals express sensitivities or intolerances to additives. These reactions, while not full-blown allergies, can still cause discomfort. Reports of sensitivities to microcrystalline cellulose often include gastrointestinal symptoms such as:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Constipation or infrequent bowel movements

While there is limited research directly linking microcrystalline cellulose to these symptoms, anecdotal evidence suggests that some individuals might be more predisposed to these reactions. If you’re experiencing such symptoms regularly, it could be worthwhile to examine your diet with a healthcare provider to ascertain whether microcrystalline cellulose or other food additives may be contributing to the issue.

Consulting with Healthcare Professionals

If you suspect an allergy or intolerance to microcrystalline cellulose or any food additive, the best course of action is to consult with an allergist or a healthcare provider. They can perform appropriate tests, like a skin prick test or an elimination diet, to help determine the cause of your symptoms. Remember, a self-diagnosis may lead to unnecessary dietary restrictions or overlook a different health issue that might require attention.

Precautionary Advice for Sensitive Individuals

For those identified with a sensitivity, managing dietary intake becomes essential. Pay attention to labels, as microcrystalline cellulose is widely used in pharmaceuticals, supplements, and food products. Individuals with known sensitives may consider the following tips:

  • Keep a food diary to track the intake of E460 and correlate it with any adverse reactions.
  • Seek out alternative products that do not contain microcrystalline cellulose.
  • Look for 'free-from' labels that cater to individuals with sensitivities to additives.

Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to your health, and understanding your body's reactions to various substances, including commonly used additives like microcrystalline cellulose, is crucial. Although true allergies may be rare, being attuned to your own body's signals of sensitivities ensures a proactive stance towards maintaining optimal health.

Regulatory Status and Safety Assessments of Microcrystalline Cellulose

Microcrystalline cellulose (MCC), a derivative of cellulose, is widely recognized as a safe and commonly used excipient in pharmaceuticals, as well as a food additive. To truly understand the implications of incorporating MCC in our diets or medicine cabinets, it's vital to consult the positions and assessments made by reputable health and regulatory organizations globally.

Firstly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has affirmed MCC as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). It is listed under Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 182.1745), which implies that expert consensus agrees on its safety when used as intended. This designation is crucial as it means that MCC can be included in food products without requiring a pre-market review and approval by the FDA.

In addition, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), responsible for reviewing the safety of food additives within the European Union, has also evaluated microcrystalline cellulose. EFSA has published scientific opinions confirming that MCC does not raise any concerns regarding genotoxicity or carcinogenicity, establishing a favorable safety profile for consumption within established acceptable daily intake levels.

The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), a scientific advisory body to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), has conducted extensive evaluations on the safety of MCC. JECFA has assigned an "ADI not specified" status to MCC, which signals that, based on the available toxicological data, the consumption of MCC in normal dietary amounts is not expected to pose any health risks.

Furthermore, Health Canada categorizes MCC as a permitted food additive, specifically as a bulking agent, among other roles, in a wide range of food products, as laid out in their List of Permitted Food Additives.

To support these regulatory standings, numerous scientific studies have examined the impact of MCC on health. These studies have assessed various factors, including its digestibility, impact on blood sugar levels, and potential effects on the digestive system. The consensus from the research community corroborates the stance of regulatory agencies, underlining the negligible risk associated with the consumption of microcrystalline cellulose in recommended amounts.

In conclusion, while microcrystalline cellulose may sound like an enigmatic ingredient due to its synthetic-sounding name, the documented regulatory statuses and thorough safety assessments by reputable international bodies provide strong reassurance about its safety. It's not about alarm but rather being an informed consumer, and in the case of MCC, the evidence tilts heavily towards a green light for its intended uses.

However, as a diligent advocate for personal health, it’s always essential to stay informed about any changes in the regulatory landscape or new findings in scientific research. And, for those with specific health conditions or dietary restrictions, consulting with a healthcare professional before making changes to one’s diet or medication routine is always advisable.

Frequently asked questions

Microcrystalline cellulose, which is derived from natural cellulose, is not digested or absorbed in the body, so it does not provide any carbohydrates or calories that would affect blood sugar levels. Consequently, MCC is generally considered safe for individuals with diabetes and does not impact blood glucose or insulin responses.

While microcrystalline cellulose is sourced from plant-based cellulose and considered a type of dietary fiber, it should not be viewed as a replacement for dietary fiber obtained from whole foods. Whole fruits, vegetables, and grains provide a matrix of nutrients and health benefits that MCC's isolated fiber does not offer.

Microcrystalline cellulose is primarily derived from wood pulp, a renewable resource. However, the sustainability aspect depends on the practices of the forestry operations and manufacturing processes. Eco-conscious consumers may seek out companies that source their cellulose from sustainably managed forests and adhere to environmentally responsible production methods.

Yes, microcrystalline cellulose is safe for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. MCC is a gluten-free ingredient derived from plant-based cellulose, not from any wheat, barley, rye, or crossbreeds of these grains, which are the sources of gluten.

Ask a question about Microcrystalline Cellulose and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • bloating
  • gas
  • constipation
  • potential laxative effect
  • allergic reactions such as hives, difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal distress

Commonly found in

  • pharmaceuticals
  • food production
  • dietary supplements
  • cosmetics

Ingredients to be aware of

  • mcc


  • improves texture
  • prevents clumping
  • contributes to satiety and bowel regularity

Healthier alternatives

  • whole, unprocessed foods

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Rachel Adams
Published on: 01-23-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Rachel Adams
Published on: 01-23-2024

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