There are a number of alarming headlines on the internet, and some have even led people to search Google for “Can Glucomannan kill you?” It’s easy to deride those sorts of search terms, but two things should be understood: 1) people have every reason to question how healthy supplements are; and 2) people only search for terms they’ve read or heard about. That means someone out there is spreading misinformation.
Readers should be aware that there have been deaths linked to glucomannan, and no death should ever be minimalized or trivialized, especially in the cases of children. This article will be brief, and I will rely on the authority of a leading Food Safety Administration and actual hospital reports to help dispel myths about Glucomannan.
✲ Glucomannan has no toxicity and side effects are almost entirely related to abdominal pain and diarrhea.
✲ Deaths and serious health concerns related to glucomannan can nearly all be attributed to choking, or over-consumption of glucomannan-flour products without appropriate water or other intake.
What Deaths Have Occurred
It is true that there have been reported deaths linked to glucomannan. Several instances in Australia, Taiwan, Japan, and elsewhere have indicated that children have ingested glucomannan candies or other chewable supplements.
These incidents are tragic, and in nearly all cases avoidable. Glucomannan is water soluble, which makes it a great replacement for gelatin in recipes. But it is also difficult to chew for young children.
Some adults have been reported with esophageal obstruction, a risk that doctors have said is similar to any bulk laxative (such as over the counter fiber gummies).
Another concern that some readers have raised is bowel obstruction. There is some evidence in the literature, as a case study from Australia points out. Reading this and other case studies has driven home two important points regarding bowel obstruction and glucomannan:
At the request of the European Union, the European Food Safety Authority conducted a thorough review of glucomannan. In their report, they concluded there were no toxicity concerns with glucomannan, and that all but one of the products made with it are safe for human consumption.
They included that there should be no amount or “dose” restriction for sale of glucomannan. The only substance they have deemed as a danger is the candy additive I mentioned before. It is, by name, E 425
Unfortunately, deaths can occur with nearly any small product that people regularly place into their mouths. In the case of glucomannan, there is a significant choking hazard for children and some elderly. In highly isolated and rare cases, there is also an apparent risk of over consumption, combined with dehydration, resulting in bowel obstructions.
Despite these risks, the Canadian, US, and European food agencies have found glucomannan safe for normal adult consumption.