SimplyThick Nectar is a product used to thicken foods and beverages. For people with dysphagia or other conditions where swallowing can be difficult, SimplyThick thickens liquids to minimize the risk of choking. While the product has been valuable to adults, after an FDA investigation, it is not recommended for children under 12.
John L. Holahan, an MBA student, invented SimplyThick for a class project. He wanted to create a food thickener that would be effective for people who had conditions that made swallowing difficult.
Holahan studied starch-based thickeners. The thickeners available on the market changed the consistency and taste of food and drinks and often made them unpleasant. As a solution, Holahan developed a xanthan gum-based product from his kitchen.
The Safety of Xanthan Gum
Only one clinical trial of xanthan gum has been conducted on adults. The US Food and Drug Administration declared xanthan gum safe for consumption in 1987. Holahan was able to have his new idea approved by the FDA in October of 2001.
Positive Feedback for SimplyThick
Adult dysphagia patients reported satisfaction with SimplyThick Nectar packets. Patients claimed the product mixed well with food and drinks. The product did not leave an unpleasant taste, and the small, individual packets allowed for convenient and discreet consumption.
Other adults also had positive experiences with SimplyThick. The product became popular with stroke survivors and throat cancer patients. People with difficulty swallowing could now safely consume food and drinks without sacrificing flavor.
SimplyThick for Infants
The product has not worked as well for infants.
The same year that Holahan’s invention was on the market, he attended an American Dietetic Association conference in St. Louis. He was approached by neonatal nutritionists. They asked Holahan if SimplyThick would be safe to use in breast milk. Other thickening agents dissolved when exposed to the enzymes in breast milk.
After feeding SimplyThick to his infant daughter without any negative consequences, Holahan decided that it was safe for babies.
Not Safe For Babies
Nurses working in neonatal units began administering SimplyThick to newborns. In late 2009, several cases occurred in which premature babies who had been given SimplyThick developed side effects. Stomach distension, bloating, and diarrhea was reported by concerned parents. One baby became so sick he needed a portion of his intestines removed.
That same year, SimplyThick received a US patent.
Over the following two years, more babies and children became sick after being given the product. Their symptoms matched a condition called necrotizing enterocolitis. The condition led to the death of intestinal tissue, and two premature infants died.
In 2011, an FDA investigation resulted in a warning to hospitals not to give premature infants SimplyThick. In January 2012, a baby who was born full-term and had been given the product died. The warning was expanded to include all infants.
SimplyThick is available for adult consumption. In February 2018, Holahan developed a new variation that is easier to mix. All packages now include a disclaimer that the product is not to be given to infants and children under twelve years.