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Health Benefits of Citric Acid

cartoon lemon and oranges

You’ve probably eaten citric acid without even realizing it. It’s a natural acid present in limes, lemons, and other citrus fruits. It’s what gives citrus fruits their sour taste. We also produce citric acid for use as a common food additive, nutritional supplement, and cleaning agent. However, this synthetic citric acid is different from naturally occurring citric acid found in sour citrus fruits. Please continue reading to learn more about the potential health benefits of this naturally occurring organic acid. Also, learn about possible citric acid side effects. 

What is citric acid?

Natural citric acid is a weak organic acid that is found in all citrus fruits. Artificial citric acid is made from a fungus called Aspergillus niger (black mold). Because it has a sour, tart, or acidic taste, citric acid is frequently used in food additives and as a flavoring agent in packaged and processed foods like soft drinks and candies.  

What are the sources of naturally occurring citric acid?

Sour citrus fruits like limes, lemons, oranges, tangerines, pomelos, and grapefruits are good natural sources of citric acid. Other fruits that contain citric acid in smaller amounts include strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, pineapple, cherries, and tomatoes.

What are the artificial sources and uses of citric acid?

The citric acid found in packaged foods and dietary supplements is man-made - it’s not the natural form found in citrus fruits. This is because obtaining citric acid from natural sources is too expensive and cannot meet global demand.

  • Approximately 70% of manufactured citric acid is used by the food and beverage industry as a food additive and flavoring agent in processed foods. Citric acid is also used while canning fruits to prevent a serious illness called botulism. 
  • Roughly 20% of manufactured citric acid is used in dietary supplements and pharmaceuticals as a stabilizer and preservative. Some mineral supplements such as calcium and magnesium contain citric acid in the form of citrate to improve absorption.
  • The remaining 10% of manufactured citric acid goes into beauty and cleaning products.

What are the health benefits of taking citric acid?

Role in Energy Metabolism

Citrate — a molecule that is closely related to citric acid — plays an important role in the Krebs cycle (also called the TCA cycle or citric acid cycle). This is a series of chemical reactions that release energy from food. Humans derive most of their energy from this chain of events.

Enhances Mineral Absorption

Some supplements of alkaline-forming minerals like calcium and magnesium are available in citrate forms. Citric acid enhances their bioavailability and allows the body to absorb them better without needing much stomach acid. For example, calcium citrate is absorbed better than calcium carbonate and has fewer side effects. Similarly, the citrate form of magnesium is more readily absorbed than magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate.

Protection Against Kidney Stones

Citric acid — in its potassium citrate form — alkalinizes your urine. This may help to break down small kidney stones and prevent the formation of new kidney stones. 

Skin Benefits

Citric acid is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). AHAs like citric acid, lactic acid, tartaric acid, tricarboxylic acid, and malic acid are common ingredients in skincare products because they resurface the skin, giving you a more even skin tone and fewer fine lines. People with dark spots, pigmentation, and scars may find citric acid beneficial.

Antimicrobial Activity 

Citric acid is a relatively weak acid with a pH between 3 and 6. However, citric acid kills bacteria and viruses that cannot survive in an acidic environment. For example, citric acid helps to prevent the spread of norovirus infection (winter vomiting bug). 

Risks Associated with Citric Acid

Citrus fruits contain naturally occurring citric acid and are generally recognized as safe. However, the manufactured citric acid that is added to foods, supplements, medicines, and cleaning products is a synthetic version called MCA. As mentioned above, it is made from a mold called Aspergillus niger. In a small number of people, mold residues from the manufacturing process can trigger allergic reactions and significant inflammatory reactions with symptoms like muscle aches, joint pain, and digestive problems. 

Other risks associated with both natural and artificial sources of citric acid are that in large quantities it can damage the tooth enamel. That’s why you should rinse your mouth with water after eating foods that are rich in citric acid.

Lastly, if you use skincare products that contain citric acid, you should know that when present in high concentrations, it can cause skin irritation and make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. If you have sensitive skin, you might want to avoid products that contain citric acid.


Is citric acid bad for the liver?

No, in fact, some studies have indicated that citric acid might have a protective effect on the liver against endotoxin-induced oxidative stress. In other words, citric acid may prevent liver injury under toxic and inflammatory conditions.

Is citric acid a good nutrient?

Citric acid is a weak organic acid and is naturally present in many citrus fruits and fruit juices like orange juice. It is not an essential mineral or vitamin and you don’t need to include it in your diet. With that said, some citric acid effects may be beneficial for your health. For example, it can protect you from forming kidney stones. Keep in mind that citric acid is not the same thing as ascorbic acid (vitamin C). 

Can I drink citric acid in water?

The best way to include citric acid in your diet is by eating citrus fruits or drinking citrus juice. Lemons and limes are the richest sources of citric acid. You can squeeze fresh lemon juice onto salads or freeze it in ice cubes and add it to your drinks. You can also make homemade lemonade with fresh lemon juice. If you use commercial lemonades, make sure they are high in citric acid but low in sugar content. Another way to consume lemon or lime juice is by adding it to marinades for meats. Edible citric acid powder is also available to use in your kitchen as a preservative and flavoring agent.


  1. https://www.uwhealth.org/files/uwhealth/docs/pdf/kidney_citric_acid.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4026104/#