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SimplyThick may have been unknown to many consumers -- until now

May 23, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Parents and pediatricians are advised not to use the thickening gel SimplyThick for infants born before 37 weeks--here's a closer look at the gel and necrotizing enterocolitis.
Parents and pediatricians are advised not to use the thickening gel SimplyThick… (Food and Drug Administration )

With the FDA warning parents not to feed milk or formula mixed with SimplyThick to premature babies, consumers are likely curious about what’s in the thickening product -- not to mention the condition to which it’s been linked.

The FDA announced Friday that 15 infants who had been given the product developed a life-threatening intestinal condition known as necrotizing enterocolitis, and that two have died. The thickener helps those with swallowing problems keep their food down.

The FDA states in a consumer update:

“This situation is unusual because NEC [necrotizing enterocolitis] most often occurs in babies while they are in the hospital early in their premature course. But some of the ill babies that FDA is aware of got sick after they had been discharged from the hospital and sent home on a feeding regimen that included SimplyThick.

At this time it is not known what about SimplyThick is making babies sick. FDA is actively investigating the link between SimplyThick and these illnesses and deaths.”

The thickener in SimplyThick is a cornstarch-like substance called xanthan gum, used in salad dressings and dairy products.

According to the company’s website:

“Xanthan gum is a complex carbohydrate that acts as soluble food fiber and passes through the body essentially without being digested. Although most people simply assume that none of the xanthan gum is digested, just to be cautious, some people do assume that small amounts, generally <5%, is digested. In a 30-gram honey packet, there is approximately 1.1 gram of xanthan gum and in a nectar packet, there is approximately 0.5 gram of xanthan gum.” (“Nectar” and “honey” refer to consistency.)

Necrotizing enterocolitis, which usually develops soon after milk feeding starts, is diagnosed in 1% to 5% of infants admitted to neonatal intensive care units.

KidsHealth explains:

“A gastrointestinal disease that mostly affects premature infants, NEC involves infection and inflammation that causes destruction of the bowel (intestine) or part of the bowel. … The exact cause of NEC is unknown, but one theory is that the intestinal tissues of premature infants are weakened by too little oxygen or blood flow. So when feedings are started, the added stress of food moving through the intestine allows bacteria normally found in the intestine to invade and damage the wall of the intestinal tissues. The damage may affect only a short segment of the intestine or can progress quickly to involve a much larger portion.”

SimplyThick points out that the FDA is not recalling the product, but nonetheless states:

“Pending the conclusion of the investigations, we are telling our customers and medical professionals to follow the FDA’s recommendation that SimplyThick® brand thickener not be used with or given to babies who were born before 37 weeks.

healthkey@tribune.com

RELATED: More news from HealthKey

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