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Like xanthan gum, gellan gum is also made by bacteria cultured in a sugary solution. The bacteria, Sphingomonas elodea, are one species out of many in a genus that’s widespread and normal in nature. Sphingomonads are known to be hardy organisms able to thrive with minimal nutrition; some species have been found in environments contaminated with toxic compounds, where they’ve shown they can use the contaminants as nourishment. Some species can also cause non-life-threatening infections in humans that may require antibiotics.
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Studies done on gellan gum consumption have not found toxic effects, nor have users commented online on any problems with regular consumption. This might be partly due to the fact that gellan gum isn’t used nearly as much in processed foods as the other gums. Or perhaps its effects are more subtle than those of other gums.
One study found that giving rats 5 percent gellan gum in their diets for four weeks led to intestinal microvilli adhering to one another, and decreased digestion of nutrients in the gut (source: “Effects of Curdlan and Gellan Gum on the Surface Structure of Intestinal Mucosa in Rats,” Osaka City Univ. and Osaka Prefecture Univ., 2009, jstage.jst.go.jp).
Microvilli are the tiny hairlike tubes that cover the surface of villi, which are the finger-like structures lining the inside of intestines. The microvilli are where nutrients are absorbed into the blood and carried to the entire body; they also release fluids that aid digestion. The whole purpose of there being so many of them is to make digestion and absorption of nutrients as fast and effective as possible. Clearly, then, it would be a bad idea to eat something sticky that has no nutritional value, cannot be digested, and would impair the ability of microvilli to absorb and secrete by forming a gummy film over them.

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