Dysphagia, or difficulty with swallowing food and liquid, can be a seriously challenging condition to live with. To help make liquids easier to swallow by thickening them up, many people with this condition use thickening agents. These work by increasing the viscosity (thickness) of the liquid. But how do they work exactly, do they change the taste of the drink, and what types are available?
What Are Thickening Agents?
Thickening agents are substances that you can add to a liquid to make them thicker. You might use something like this in cooking, for example, adding corn starch or potato starch to a sauce to thicken it up. Thickening agents are available in many forms and are made from various ingredients, including gums, cellulose, and starches. They’re usually available as powders, liquids, or gels.
Some thickening agents are designed especially for the purpose of helping people with dysphagia and similar conditions to swallow liquids easier. You can find out more about how they work, and how they are helping people with these SimplyThick stories.
- Starches: These are the most commonly used type of thickening agent. They’re usually available in powder form and are made from natural ingredients such as corn, tapioca, or potato. They thicken liquids quickly. However, there are some drawbacks, including that they can make the liquid cloudy.
- Gums: These are available in powder form and can easily thicken liquids. Along with this, they can keep liquids from separating. They’re usually more stable than starches, and don’t lose any thickening properties at high temperatures.
- Cellulose Fibers: These are also available in powder form which is added to liquids to thicken them. Like gum, they’re more stable compared to starch and can be used as an emulsifier or stabilizer.
How Do Thickening Agents Work?
When you add a thickening agent to a liquid, it works by absorbing the water, which increases the liquid’s viscosity. As a result, the liquid becomes thicker, and easier to swallow. The thickening agent may work differently depending on the type. For example, a starch-based or cellulose fiber thickening agent will absorb the water and swell, creating a thicker liquid. On the other hand, gum-based agents form a gel-like substance.
How to Use Thickening Agents Safely
If you have a condition such as dysphagia and want to try thickening agents to make eating and drinking easier, it’s important to know how to use them safely and effectively. Always follow the instructions on the packaging, and always use the correct amount, as adding too much can lead to digestive problems.
It’s best to always go with a thickening agent that is designed to be used by people with conditions that cause trouble swallowing since they do not alter the taste or texture of the liquid. It may also be safer for you to consume more compared to a standard thickening agent.
If you have dysphagia or a similar condition, it’s always worth understanding what thickening agents are, how they work, and how they can help you have a better experience when eating or drinking.