Carrageenan: A Food Additive That’s Not as Safe As You Think

If you look towards the back of the ingredients list on many processed foods you’ll frequently see an ingredient called carrageenan. Like lots of other confusing sounding food-stuffs, most people blithely consume it daily without a scintilla of awareness about what it actually is or whether or not it’s good for you.

Overall carrageenan is (mostly) harmless, but it has a variety of troublesome side effects that shouldn’t go unnoticed, most notably high correlations to colon cancer, inflammation, and a depressed immune system.

carrageenan

What Is Carrageenan?

Carrageenan is a polysaccharide that’s derived from red seaweed. On a molecular level it’s actually very similar to plastic and is popular for that reason. It bends easily but snaps back into place, which makes it a useful additive to foods, gels, and foams.

It’s long been used to improve the texture of food, and the earliest reported uses of red seaweed to improve a food’s characteristics dates back to 600 BC in China. It began to be used commercially in the west starting in the 1930′s, and about 80% of the world’s red seaweed is harvested in the philippines.

Uses

Carrageenan is cheap, fairly docile, and easy to crank out. So it’s used in a lot things. You’ll often see it in milk products to improve viscosity, especially plant milks since they don’t have any cream. Its others uses include but are not limited to:

  • toothpaste
  • gummy products
  • dairy products/plant milks
  • beer
  • shoe polish
  • shaving cream

And the list goes on. You’ll often see carrageenan used in conjunction with agar, guar gum, or xantham gum.

commercially grown carrageenan

Carrageenan is grown commercially in southeast Asia

So Is Carrageenan Bad For You?

Carrageenan has always gotten a free pass from the health community. It’s frequently used as a vegan alternative to gelatin and recently herbivores have come to its defense because dairy companies have been framing it as a “weird additive” in its milk commercials.

Andy Bellatti recently wrote an article defending carrageenan as an additive, and most health/eco-oriented pundits seem to condone it since it’s often used in products they otherwise deem worthy…..most notably plant milks.

However, I think most of these people are suffering from the fallacy of mood affiliation.  Carrageenan helps make foods they like more palatable, and therefore they defend carrageenan as well.

I believe this sense of affiliation is incorrect.

Why, you ask?

Because carrageenan has a long and notable history of significant correlations to different types of cancer and acute-inflammatory responses which are not good for you, to say the least.

Inflammation

Whenever I write a summary article like this one of my first tasks is to type in the subject line into google scholar to see what studies come up.

When I did this for carrageenan I was surprised to see that the most relevant, cited papers had little to do with carrageenan as a food additive, but instead focused on its ability to induce acute inflammation in rats. Here’s the page I saw:

carrageenan and inflammation

After digging a little deeper into the literature I was surprised to find that by far the most notable aspect of carrageenan in medical research is its clockwork like ability to induce oedema and other inflammatory responses in rats. They’ve been doing it in labs for more than 40 years.

Carrageenan ingested in large amounts promotes inflation in two ways: it depresses the activity of macrophages (big immune cells that act like garbage collectors) and induces the creation of histamine,  Cox-2 and prostaglandins, all inflammation inducing compounds.

Cancer

Regular ingestion of carrageenan also has a high correlation to different sorts of gastrointestinal cancers in rats. Most of the research done on the carrageenan/cancer relationship has been done in southeast Asia, and thus is not as well publicized as other harmful food additives like MSG.

However, the trail of research on this issue is long, and pretty consistent. Carrageenan (particularly the “degraded” kind) regularly induces carcinogenesis, neoplasia, and intestinal lesions. Ouch!

By far the most impressive research in this issue was carried out by a professor named Kazuo Wakabayashi, who’s centered in Japan (I believe).

I won’t bore you and write The Unabbreviated Scholarly Review on Carrageenan and Carcinogenesis, but let me point out two relevant studies for you to chew on:

  • A clinical study conducted by Wakabayashi found that rodents were fed daily with a 5% carrageenan aqueous solution had a 100% incidence rate of colon metaplasis after 15 months.
  • As far as I know there have been no clinical studies conducted on humans, but they have been performed on mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, and mice and they all show a connection between carrageenan and colon cancer. 
Food for thought.

So Is Carrageenan Safe?

Throughout most of the world carrageenan has been deemed “generally safe.” And in modest quantities it is, just like most other additives you consume in processed food.

However, I’m a bit miffed at the lack of attention its received for its potentially harmful side effects. The health community typically likes to throw stones at any and all preservatives added by the industrial process, and are quick to point out any harmful correlations that have been brought up in medical research. For example, the correlation between MSG and obesity has received a lot of scrutiny.

So I’m not sure why carrageenan gets a free pass.  It shouldn’t.

Research and References on Carrageenan

Vinegar, R, et. al “Quantitative Studies of the Pathway to Acute Carrageenan Inflammation” Federation Proceedings.  1976,  pgs. 2447-2456.

URL: http://ukpmc.ac.uk/abstract/MED/976489

Di Rosa, M, et. al. “Studies of the Mediators of Acute Inflammatory Response Induced in Rats in Different Sites by Carrageenan and Turpentine” Journal of Pathology. May, 1971. Pgs 15-29.

URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/path.1711040103/abstract

Wakabayashi, Kazuo, et. al. “Induction by Degraded Carrageenan of Colorectal Tumors in Rats”  Cancer Letters. January 1978, pgs. 171-176.

URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304383578942374

Watanabe, Kenshi, et. al. “Effect of Dietary Undegraded Carrageenan on Colon Carcinogenesis in F344 Rats Treated With Azoxymethane or Methylnitrosurea”  Cancer Research. December 1978, pgs. 4427-4430.

URL: http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/38/12/4427.full.pdf

Tobacman, Joanne. “Review of Harmful Gastrointestinal Effects of Carrageenan in Animal Experiments”  Environmental Health Perspectives. October 2001, pgs. 983-994.

URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1242073/pdf/ehp0109-000983.pdf

Guay, Jocelyne, et. al. “Carrageenan-Induced Paw Edema in Rat Elicits a Predominant Prostaglandin E2 Response in the Central Nervous System Associated with the Induction of Microsoma PGE2 Synthase-1″  Journal of Biological Chemistry. June 2004, pgs 24866-24872.

URL: http://www.jbc.org/content/279/23/24866.full.pdf+html

Salvemini, Daniela, et. al. “Nitric Oxide: A Key Mediator in the Early and Late Phase of Carrageenan-Induced Rat Paw Inflammation”  British Journal of Pharmacology. Pgs 829-838.

URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1909531/pdf/brjpharm00083-0008.pdf

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Comments

  1. Joanne Tobacman says:

    Just wanted you to be aware of studies that we have performed in human cells that show effects of carrageenan on inflammation and on cancer-related mechanisms, as well as effects on insulin signaling.

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks Joanne. Do you have any links?

      • Kevin Field says:

        Google her name and try the first three.

        • I love and drink soy milk, “real soy milk” produced in a small retail store where the owner makes soy milk every morning from scratch with water and dried soy beans to produce Tofu every day while I am in Japan. This is truly Way of Making Tofu in Japan for hundreds years. This soy milk contains only water and soy beans and is thick enough (of course for Tofu and) for drinking itself or adding to smoothie, coffee or tea, or cooking. While I drink this soy milk everyday in Japan I do not have any digestive problem at all while I have always feel bloating my stomach after several days of American soy milk back in the US. I always pick up Organic Soy Milk without “carrageenan”, though I still have same problem. I wonder all American soy milk contains “Carrageenan” whether it mentions “Carrageenan” in its ingredients or not. Well…, so…, I have decided I make soy milk by myself from scratch with dried soybeans!!!!! Luckily, I know how!!! Please watch some other products, such as heavy cream, yogurt, etc. Why the producer can say it’s Organic????? I rather eat REAL FOOD without any kind of additives.

  2. When I decided to be a better vegetarian and slowly make the switch to vegan, i started drinking silk soy milk from cow milk. soon after i started getting bloating worse than i have ever had in my life. i felt 10 months pregnant. i knew it could not be the soy as i eat soy and have no problems. after a month or so of drinking soy milk and suffering, i googled and found out about carrageenan and also found this page on your website. i stopped the silk soy milk and went back to cow milk to see if my gut would heal. my bloating went away albeit it took at least a week to feel better again. then, some time later, at least a month or two, i started getting the bloating back again this time with blood and mucous in my stool and horrible abdominal pain. uh oh i have inflammatory bowel disease i thought. then i remembered i had been eating chapmans frozen yogurt a few days earlier and had a big bowl of that just two days previous to my incident of bloody mucousy stools. low and behold, it has carrageenan in it. i should have read my labels. this is a dangerous additive and i fully agree with your article. i can see a lot of people blaming other things for their GI upset like lactose intolerance, instead of what the real culprit may be, carageenan. the cancer connection is reason enough to not consume it in my opinion. thank you for your article!

    • Jonathan says:

      No problem kelly! It’s gratifying to find out at least a teeny weeny bit of my work is helping someone. I agree that more people ought to pay attention to carrageenan. It’s hard to look past the negative correlations with the nasty health effects.

      • Caz galbraith says:

        This is not addressed at all in your (excellent) article….but I suffer from severe debilitating migraines… I was getting them 4 days out the WEEK and have been hospitalized on several occasions. As a 50 year old nurse….this was a nightmare…I had tried every medication on the market, supplements, invasive procedures….NOTHING made a difference. I know MSG was like a gun to my head and I became obsessive about making sure I never ingested it. Still had the migraines.. And for the millionth time did some more research ( actually was checking into brain surgery) when I came across the carageenan connection. I experimented…… If I ate anything that contained carageenan I had a severe migraine within 30 minutes without fail. It was actually as bad if not worse than MSG. It has by far been the 1 thing that has made a significant difference in the quality of my life. Carageenan is POISON to me.

        • Cannot thank you enough for your letter.
          I can only say DITTO!!!!! to everything that you wrote.
          Just got off of the phone with the people who make Ovaltine, something I drank for many, many years,
          never knowing why I had a terrible headache every morning.
          I gave them all of the details about what this ingredient/additive does to me and thousands of other unsuspecting people.
          Over the years, I have blamed everything, except the true cause: Carrageenan.
          Now that I know about it, I read every label.
          Also have same reaction to Maltodextrin and MSG.
          Have found that this is common among those of us who have any Native American ancestors.
          Have written a page addressing this and have heard back from countless of other sufferers who say to me,
          like I say to you, DITTO!
          Thanks again,
          Also a former Nurse,
          Donna Jones

  3. I would like to know how you can communicate this information to the companies who add this to their products. I find this in quite a few products including some body creams and toothpaste and I can’t seem to find anywhere on their websites that you can communicate that you would like this ingrediant removed.

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Lorna, are you located in the US or Canada? I’m actually helping petition to have carrageenan removed as an organic ingredient in all food products.

      I can show you more information about that if you’d wish.

      I honestly don’t know of a particular way you can contanct different companies besides traditional customer service channels.

  4. Thanks for this article.

    I use irish moss in recipes, which is the seaweed weed, or at least one of them, that carrageenan is derived from. Is the actual seaweed itself an issue, or is it just the processed carrageenan as a polysaccharide that’s an issue?

    Thanks again.

    • I share the same concern as Russell. Is Irish moss, in its unadulterated form safe?

      • Jonathan Bechtel says:

        Darcy and Russ, I believe irish moss in its unadulterated form is safe. It’s only when you extract the carrageenan and reduce it down to its more simple polysaccharides that it becomes dangerous. I will double check on this though.

        • Cara Genan says:

          Based on what do you believe that Irish Moss is “safe”?

          Just like this “belief”, I think that most of the statements in your article are rather unfounded. For example, the inflammation story above is just a complete misunderstanding. The inflammatory effect is observed after injection of Carrageenan, not after ingestion. I would wager that if you would inject anything in your fridge under your skin, you would get a pretty massive infection. In other words, just because something is bad for you when you inject it, doesn’t mean it is bad for you if you eat it. You ask why CNG does not get more attention and scrutiny after all the science you cite. The answer is that the science on CGN has failed to turn up anything that is really relevant to the use of CGN in human food. And that is not for lack of trying.

          The plethora of exposing cells in vitro to CGN has no relevance whatsoever on exposure of humans to CGN through food, where CGN undegoes hydrolyzation in the stomach, all kinds of enzymatic modifications in the gut, and where cells are shielded through mucous membranes. The cancer stories are ambiguous at best. In most of them, it was not enough to expose the animals to CGN, but a “first hit” carcinogen, like AOM or similar, is typically used to be able to see any effect. Humans typically do not ingest known carcinogens in comparable quantities and also do not have the spontaneous cancer rates as some of the animals that were used. And then, how do you square the alleged cancer-inducing effects of CGN with the alleged cell-death inducing effects of CGN observed in vitro, e.g., by Tobacman, which are directly contradictory? So, which one is it now? Cell death or hyperproliferation?

          As I said, there is no clear line of evidence that CGN is, in fact, bad for you as long as you don’t inject it into your tissue and as long as you stay away from eating large quantities of known carcinogens. Of course, if you are allergic, CGN might kill you, just like anything else you are allergic to. But a food additive is not pulled because some people are allergic and because there is some anecdotal evidence of adverse effects, especially not if the science aimed to show adverse effects has not turned up anything substantial after 40 years of trying…

  5. I just read in a New York Times article that the USDA allows products containing carrageenan to be labeled as USDA Certified Organic. This is because the USDA has stacked the Board that decides such matters with industry people. Utterly shameful!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/business/organic-food-purists-worry-about-big-companies-influence.html?hp

    A report worth reading:
    http://www.cornucopia.org/USDA/OrganicWatergateWhitePaper.pdf

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Karim, this article was actually used as a piece of evidence to try and convince the organic standards board that carrageenan shouldn’t be allowed in organic food, but it didn’t pass.

  6. I like the idea of your purchasing power being relative to a vote. When you purchase a product, you are essentially putting a ‘vote’ in the company’s ballot box; I like this product, keep making it.

    Stop purchasing carragenan and hopefully they will get the picture.

  7. Just found your article on Carrageenan – thank you. I have family with dairy-allergic children who drink soy milk and have always been a bit concerned about all the additives. I used to buy a soy milk in Japan that was 100% soy. It was thick and creamy and had a flavour that I could only describe as being “full-on soy”. My 1 year old daughter liked it. There were other cheaper local products, but only the imported soy milk had added sugar and was fortified with vitamins and minerals. Are there 100% soy beverages available in western countries? I’d be interested to know.

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      As far as I know there aren’t any popular “100% soy” products if you take the term literally. If you insist on that you’d be better off making it on your own….it’s not that hard.

  8. The only 100% soy milk I’ve found is WESTSOY organic unsweetened. They make others with carageenan but not this one. Stores have trouble selling it and are dropping it. People in my area are using soy less and less, prefering almond and rice over soy (estrogen concern). All of those have carageenan as well.
    I’m surprised that there isn’t more attention given to this issue since a number of years ago Andrew Weil, MD published info on the downside of consuming it.

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      The majority of plant milks use carrageenan in them, I’m afraid. I believe Blue Diamond organic soy milks doesn’t have carrageenan in them, but the other major brands all do. This piece was actually used as evidence recently when the Organic standards board met to decide if Carrageenan continue to be used in organic foods….but it didn’t work.

      • Recently read an article on carrageenan-so I started checking all my products. I’m a huge organic/natural food freak- switched from soy milk (estrogen concerns) to almond milk and now I’m addicted to the Blue Diamond Coconut/Almond Breeze blend-annnnnnnnnnd Carrageenan is a listed ingredient. One of the last ones, but still… :( UGH….is nothing safe anymore?!

      • I found “Organic SO NICE natural” my best find so far: the three ingredients are:
        filtered water, organic whole soybeans and sodium bicarbonate.
        You’ll find it on the shelf, not in the refrigerated section. It’s Canadian, so not sure if it’s sold anywhere outside Canada.
        I believe Blue diamond does not make soy milk. They do have almond milk. Hope this info helps.

        • Jonathan Bechtel says:

          Marieke,

          Thanks. At my grocery store finding soy milk without carrageenan is difficult. I THINK I use Blue Diamond….but maybe I’m wrong?

      • Blue diamond does have carrageenan in it. Silk doesn’t

  9. my question is quantity? 1 aspirin not harmful 20 harmful.just bought a veggie product the last ingredient was Carrageenan.i have no plans to eat it nonstop all day.Please clarify quantity and requency if possible thank you

    • Megan Baldwin says:

      plz somebody answer this Q! I eat frozen yogurt with carrageenan in it! I LOVE it! plz plz is a small amount safe?? I havent had any side effects–nvr would have known if my mom hadnt warned me…

      • Jonathan Bechtel says:

        Megan,

        For most people small amounts of carrageenan are safe. As you can see in this thread it clearly bothers some people, but it’s generally considered safe, despite some well reported health problems it can have. My advice is to pay close attention to how you feel after you eat something with carrageenan in it, and then eliminate it for a few weeks to see if you notice a difference.

  10. This article was quite interesting, though I have to say I would like more detailed information. Many of these articles that point to a negative effect of additive x or y seem to sensationalize and only put information that can sway people to their stance.

    I too would like to know the quantities of carrageenan used in those studies. People have to understand that there is a large number of factors at play here. The above person’s example of aspirin is perfect. To go further, even common fruits and vegetables have natural chemical components that are healthy at normal levels, but dangers in high concentrations. There are thresholds. Even vitamins at high concentrations can be dangerous.

    Also, some of these articles post arguments that have absolutely no substance. The argument that “ingredient XY, at a molecular level is close to plastic”, is absolutely meaningless. A difference of a single molecule in compounds can mean the difference between life or death. Example. Water is perhaps the greatest thing for our bodies, correct? It has 2 hydrogen molecules and one oxygen. If you add another oxygen molecule to it, guess what it becomes…BLEACH, hydrogen peroxide. So if I were to use the same argument most articles use, water is a very dangerous substance as it is molecularly similar to bleach. Or I could argue that bleach is a healthier alternative to water since it has higher amounts of oxygen. Chemistry is not simply 1 + 1 = 2.

    Another thing I want people to be aware of is the type of language the referenced studies use, and the wording. To say that “it is unreasonable to speculate” is a bit far reaching. It is as if to say “maybe we can say that maybe…”.

    One more thing – know the whole study! If rats were fed a 5% degraded carrageenan solution, I’m not quite sure if the study can be relevant to humans. Firstly, it is nearly impossible to consume the same amount of UNDEGRADED carrageenan in similar amounts relative to our body weight. Most dairy products will contain about 0.1% to 0.2% carrageenan. That is 1 to 2 grams for every 1,000g of product. And considering most only drink 1 cup (250g) a day, that amount is further reduced. So remember about thresholds again; below a certain amount, something is healthy, higher than the threshold, it is not. Another factor is that the animals were consuming DEGRADED carrageenan. I am pointing out that when it is being digested in their stomachs, it undergoes FURTHER processing in the animal’s digestive system. This case is not at all similar to the type we consume in human foods. Yes, one can argue that it becomes degraded in our stomach, but to what extent? Does it get degraded enough to resemble the same carrageenan they used in the rat study?

    Personally, I am not for or against the use of food additives. What I am really trying to say is that there are so many factors involved in those studies, so many factors involved in our digestive system, so many factors involved in chemistry; because of these factors we should not be so quick to make sweeping assumptions, conclusions and generalizations. As the saying goes “a little knowledge is dangerous”.

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      This inquiry deserves a response. I’m thinking of writing a follow up to this piece and will definitely write a lot of based around what you said.

      FWIW I actually feel the same way you do about food additives. Perhaps this article doesn’t convey that pretty well, but when you factor in cost, the impossibility of making things 100% safe for everyone and the other desirable aspects people want out of the food they buy, the use of food additives seems natural and logical, and not necessarily dangerous and sinister.

      Or perhaps in other words…..safety has a price, but it’s unnatural to think of things that way.

      I’ll get back to the points you touched on later.

      • I’d like to add a few more things actually. I just received some very useful information. Working in a food lab has it’s benefits.

        1. Most of the fear of Carrageenan is based on studies conducted by Tobacman. His/her studies and results have been rejected by her peers. Furthermore, there are more recent studies testing Tobacman’s claims. None of the recent studies have found evidence to support Tobacman’s claims.
        2. There is a very significant difference between food grade and non-food grade carrageenan.
        3. Carrageenan is a fibre, and is therefore not absorbed in the body.
        4. Food-grade carrageenan has a molecular weight of 500,000 to 700,000 daltons. DEGRADED carrageenan (also known as poligeenan) has a molecular weight of 10,000 to 20,000 daltons. Furthermore, there are no conclusive studies that support the claim that poligeenan is carcinogenic.
        5. Regarding Tobacman’s study involving rats, if humans were to consume the same amount of carrageenan relative to our body weight, 15% of our daily diet would have to be carrageenan. Again, many things consumed are healthy or dangerous depending on the amounts.

        Some of my own opinions – Again, most of the hate of carrageenan seems to have stemmed from Tobacman’s studies. Whether the studies are credible and conclusive I am not sure, but one thing that is very important is this – You cannot make conclusions based on studies conducted by ONE source. It is always best to gather information from multiple sources, studies or trials. It is through rigorous and sometimes repetitive testing and trials that consistences and fallacies are found.

        Another is that any individual’s claims should not be quickly applied to the general public. To say that one has stomach aches after consuming a particular food (to keep it relevant say its the soymilk people have mentioned) should not mean that everyone else will have similar experience and should therefore avoid the soymilk. For example, nuts! It is generally accepted that nuts are healthy snacks, yet clearly some people are allergic, sometimes lethally allergic to them. Does this mean that no one should consume nuts? It really may be the case that someone has adverse reactions to carrageenan or any other food ingredient, but we are all different. One person’s poison may be another person’s favourite juice.

        I hope my comments are found useful by people. I simply want to provide more information. So much unnecessary arguing has stemmed from lack of information.

        • Very helpful! Thank you!

        • Has anyone told you lately you are wonderful!

        • Really good response, I am in Pharmacy school and we had a lecture last week about what size molecules are readily absorbed in the gut. Any compounds over 350,000 Daltons or 35 Kilo Daltons do not get readily absorbed in the gut. I am by no means an expert, in fact this is the first time I have researched carrageenan, but I would say that the particle size of un-degraded carrageenan could be a key point to this argument.

          • To amend that I meant to write 350 KD, not 35

          • Jonathan Bechtel says:

            Toronto Food Lab’s response is very, very good. I’m going to write a reply to his retorts here pretty soon. I would do it now except my sister is getting married so I can’t drop 3 hours on an essay.

          • Kevin Field says:

            A couple of points about the above posts:

            1) I’m not sure about the credibility of torontofoodlabs, since ze gets hir basic terminology incorrect. A compound is made up of molecules. Molecules are made of atoms. It’s an oxygen atom you’d have to add to a water molecule to make it into a molecule of bleach. However, I doubt you’ll find a scientist who considers the two substances to be ‘similar’ in the way that the OP was talking, which I interpreted to be in the sense of the cell receptors reacting with it in similar ways. In that sense it’s certainly not a meaningless argument. Do some research on endocrine disruptors. I’m not saying I know for sure that carrageenan operates the same way, but I wouldn’t just dismiss the argument the way torontofoodlabs did, either.

            2) I’m also interested in the quantity question. Even water is toxic in too high a quantity (does anyone else remember the young woman who died trying to win the Hold Your Wee for a Wii contest in the US a few years ago?). However, I don’t necessarily think that just because the amounts used in studies are higher than what we might consume that we can somehow conclude that the amounts we might consume won’t be harmful. There’s a key word in Geoff’s post, “readily.” Some compounds, such as (some?) dioxins, have a property whereby even a single molecule can harm an organism. There’s a whole spectrum between such compounds and something like water. I’m pretty sure we don’t know exactly where carrageenan lies on that spectrum just yet.

            But back to the dioxin example, I found a bottle of hotel shampoo recently that contained a dioxin in its ingredient list. Don’t even get me started on BPA. So for things that we know are toxic that there are enough powerful industry voices trying to pretend that they aren’t, what should we think about substances like carrageenan where research is suggesting they may be harmful in our foods, even if it’s not yet confirmed exactly how harmful?

  11. Thank you for this informative post. I just turned down ice cream sandwiches today that had Carrageenan in them and I was not sure why (I knew I had read that it was bad). Your article helped remind me!

  12. Tar de Moutonnoir says:

    Your research addressed some of my questions about this food additive. I think there’s enough doubt for me to steer clear of it till more conclusive evidence emerges. Thanks!

  13. Just love creamer on my coffee. I do not use “Coffemate” because it has trans fat. Switched to “Delight” which is even tastier. In the evenings, I would have hyperacidity and/or stomach/rumblings. So, I suspected “Delight” when I came upon some articles about carrageenan. Whenever I use just 2 singles of this creamer for one day, I would have hyperacidity during the latter part of the day. When I use one single or do not use it at all, I do not have any stomach problems. Tried this observations several times, and came up with the same results. It scared me to think that, had I not come across info about carrageenan, I may have gone to a physician for my hyperacidity, who would then prescribe medication for whatever he thinks ails me. I conclude that it is harmful to my health. Is it harmful to you? I don’t know. Find out for yourself. Now, what do I use for a creamer?

  14. Cheryl WAelbroeck says:

    I have suffered from migraines for years. Finally had allergy testing and was allergic to carrageenan. Since the allergy testing, I read labels and cannot believe how many products have carrageenan in them. I have read previously about the negatives regarding carrageenan and am appalled at how there is no public education about it. What else is being put in our food supply that is harmful-besides high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils? As challenging as it is, my family has gone to eating no processed foods and reading labels. My kids are not happy about it, but at least they are healthier for it.

    I was also told by a doctor, although have not researched it myself, that one cup of soy product is equivalent to 1 birth control pill. What are your thoughts on that?

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Cheryl,

      Your comments about soy are interesting. Mostly because soy seems to have very different health effects depending on what form its used in. And because soy has become so widely used and fabricated the answer to the question “is soy good for you?” is becoming increasingly complicated, ya know?

      I’m actually planning on a more detailed look at this and will let you know when it’s ready.

  15. Actually, Blue Diamond does use carrageenan in their almond milks. I have a carton in my refrig right now listing it in their ingredients. That is why I am on your site today researching this “new to me” ingredient. I am not happy with what I am learning. I switched to almond and soy to decrease my milk consumption and lower my cholesterol, hopefully. But increasing my chances on colon cancer is not the alternative results that I intended. Back to skim milk for me!

  16. Good article. One typo though… “promotes inflation in two ways”

  17. Cassandra Burlington says:

    This is the first time I have read all this info re carregeenan, as it is in the almond milk that the dietitian recommended to me to treat inflammation in the stomach. It seems that a small amount – just in tea, three times a day, and the occasional use on cereal may not be too bad, but I think I will look a recipe to make my own and see how that goes. After a month, I am still having the occasional day of being ill and having gastric symptoms, with a totally exhausted feeling, but most of my days are fairly good now that I have absolutely no dairy products.

  18. I’m glad your article is bringing more awareness to this. I feel that people should at least know of the concerns, so they can look into for themselves, experiment, and avoid if need be. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis 12 years ago. Being an inflammatory bowel disease, I often wonder about how what I consume may contribute to the problem.

    2 personal experiences have made me question it’s safety. 1st- My symptoms of chronic diarrhea, then blood in bowel movements started about 1 month into university, and I was diagnosed after about 5 months. When I thought back on my diet at the time the thing that stood out to me besides wine gums making me feel sick, was that a friend and I were going down to the cafe for a mini carton of chocolate milk daily after class for months on end. The stomach cramps that I would walk home with eventually connected for me, and I figured I had lactose intolerance, and stopped dairy. This did indeed make a big difference over the years. I learned I could handle some dairy (cheese) as can many lactose intolerant people. Interestingly carrageenan usually is not in cheese or white milk, but flavored stuff and every ice cream, sherbert, frozen yogurt, soy milk, almond milk etc. (But not so far my Rice Dream milk).

    This past fall I started having seasonal flare symptom of ulcerative colitis as I sometimes do. Wanting to stop it before it got going I figured I’d be very strict with my diet. Avoid all dairy, along with fibrous foods (which are bad for colitis), and mainly drink dairy free meal replacement drinks for about 5 days. Well that set of the worst flare I had since my initial diagnosis. I had so much bleeding, so I started examining the ingredients in the drink since that was the main obvious change I’d made. Carageenan stood out in my memory from someone posting about it on a colitis board. After researching what I could find and learning that it was used in some form to induce inflammation and ulceration in rats, that just hit too close to home with my own condition.

    Like someone mentioned above, it may not be poison for all, and everything in moderation. However, knowing that the diagnosis of inflammatory bowel diseases, and irritable bowel disease has just been exploding over the last number of decades, especially in the developed world with all it’s processed foods, this makes me wonder if this could unknowingly be playing a big part in at least aggravating so many of the new cases. I’d like to see more serious research be done on its possible connection in digestive and bowel diseases. It sure seems like a likely culprit, but it’s true we don’t really know, and it’s too handy in the industry to vilify without sound literature. I, for sure, will avoid the stuff for myself, and for my kids who I’m not taking the chance with. I think others should have the same opportunity to decide for themselves as well.

  19. Thank you for this article. My 18 month old son and I usually drink Pacific brand hemp milk, but recently I used Tempt brand because the other was sold out. I had horrible cramps and stomach pains. He seemed a little more gassy, but not as bad as I was. Now I see that Tempt has the carrageenan in it and Pacific doesn’t. I think that might be the source of my problems…

  20. Jonathan,
    Thank you so much for caring for people and there health.

  21. I have been very allergic to carrageenan for about 5 years now and have only found one other person that figured out what was causing her distress. I have turned others onto this issue and they are now finding that they have the same issue….I am very happy to have read this as now I feel somehow vindicated. For many years people would look at me like I had 2 heads and asked what the hell is carrageenan….thank you, thank you, thank you……..I still have tummy issues and I still search for answers, but believe me….this is at the top of my list…..

  22. So Jonathan, i am a new grandma. My daughter is breastfeeding her little girl, but needs to supplement. We started out on a gerber formula. But baby showed allergy signs. So, by the recommendations from her doctor to switch to similac “alimentum”. One of the first ingredients were carrageenan…which led me to u. I like natural thgs & perfer whole foods… what do u suggest? My family means the world to me and i am confused with all the mixed information we r being told.

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Diane I’m not actualy sure what sorts of baby products do and do not contain carrageenan. I’m not a parent, sorry :( For most people carrageenan doesn’t cause allergies, but of course this thread will tell you that that’s not the case for everyone.

      Organic baby formulas are less likely to have carrageenan than non-organic.

  23. maybe you were hyperactive becuase of the coffee you were dinking and it is giving you an ulcer.

  24. Sara Murphy says:

    I have been drinking soy milk for 18 months. An earlier post suggested Westsoy plain low fat. I buy it at Dollar Tree stores. Not only is it the “cleanest” soy milk I have found containing only filtered water. organic soy, organic cane juice, sea salt and some vitamins, at a dollar a quart it’s a bargain!! I hope Weatsoy doesn’t stop making it!

  25. When I lived on the coast of Ireland, we used to harvest fresh carageenan and use it to make puddings. I always thought it seemed healthy. Does something happen to it when processed?

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Kathy there’s a difference between the seaweed that’s used to make carrageenan and the preservative that’s used in food, which has been degraded. It’s the degraded carrageenan that causes most of the health problems.

  26. Silk unsweetened original and vanilla almond milk don’t have carrageenan in them

  27. The following are absent from the article:
    1. What is the degraded form and where found ?
    2.. How much consumed in humans is estimated to reach the threshold of potentially dangerous?
    3. How much is used as an additive in supermarket-available processed foods?
    4. How much of, say, one’s favourite cookies using carrageenan would one need to eat to arrive at the threshold?

  28. Jack-O-Lantern says:

    Well this stuff is in the school milk at lunch (trumoo) and it just kinda weirds me out that we cant just have regular milk. instead we have potentially dangerous shit milk! But i guess i cant complain because i doubt this issue will ever be assessed.

    Thanks for the knowledge thou! Much appreciated and keep up the good work:)

  29. Frank Bechtel says:

    Now I finally may have identified a source of some of my IBS irritants. Thanks very much for your effort and un-biased opinion. Keep up the good work!
    (btw: our last name is a coincidence – we are not related)

  30. Beth Bolitho says:

    Interesting to read about Carrageenan. I recenlty started to buy Emmis Caffe Latte Cappucino drink to have at work in the mornings. It only took me a few days to recognise that it had an almost immediate laxative effect. I have reactions to Xanthum Gum (annoying as I am coeliac) that are similar so I suspected right away that Carrageenan was the culprit.

  31. At the risk of sounding stupid….my husband was taken off dairy. He switched to Almond milk. So now what do we do? Frankly it seems as if EVERYTHING is bad for you. It’s very confusing and frustrating. Any milk ideas?

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Rochelle,

      Not all plant milks have carrageenan in them. If you do end up taking one with carrageenan in it, just wait and see if your body has an adverse reaction to it.

      Most of the time you won’t be able to tell how much carrageenan is in something, but there’s a good chance it’ll be small enough that it won’t be an issue for you.

    • Rochelle you can always make your own almond milk, it’s easy :-) When I visited the US recently I was shocked at how man additives there were in so called ‘healthy’ foods. I suggest if you want to avoid additives perhaps it’s better to avoid processed foods altogether, and just make your own, at least you know whats going in to it!

  32. Sphygmomanometer says:

    You lost me, buddy. I mean, I imagine I get what youre expressing. I recognize what you are saying, but you just appear to have overlooked that you’ll find some other individuals in the world who view this issue for what it actually is and may possibly not agree with you. You may well be turning away many of persons who might have been fans of your web log.

  33. Hi,
    In my 60′s now, I had never had a long standing problem with my lower intestinal tract. I changed my diet from high milk consumption to eliminating milk 10 months ago, using Silk as a subtitute. Milk was not the only food i eliminated; I switched my diet considerably overall. I did not note any gastic issues at first. After 4 months, however, I was hit with very severe and non-stop diarrhea. Since I had switched my diet a lot, I needed many food elimination guesses. I didnt thinkit was the Silk because it was soy, and other soy products had never bothered me. Dummy me! Finally after 5 months of huge problems, and thanks to several coincidences, I realized it was the Silk! Within several days of stopping it totally, my symptoms began to ease up and they are vastly improved again. By pure luck and coincidence again, after I had already identified the Silk as a problem, I found a site that talked about carrageenan. Sure enough, my brand of Silk had it, as did my toothpaste. I need no further proof that for me, carrageenan is something I want to stay away from. I have looked at the scientific literature, and there are papers and studies, although not many, that talk the potentially harmful effects of carageenan on humans. Carageenan is used in animal studies to CAUSE intestinal lesions (similar to Chrone’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis) so that then they can study the different treatments for them. Avoiding carageenan is not that difficult of you look at ingredients and don’t buy foods that are not labeled. One example, after having a problem after cream cheese on my bagel in a different coffee place that usual, I now will be more careful about that. Avoiding it is an easy trial, and I wish I had discovered it soon. One additional piece of information: the huge issue with the diarrhea prompted me to go to a gastroenterologist. He did a colonoscopy in which he took small biopsies of “normal looking” tissue, and I got diagnosed with “microscopic colitis” meaning inflamation in the colon too small to see without a microscope! Interesting. I had made the Silk connection right around to time of the colonscopy, so was still drinking Silk the day before the procedure, but had stopped the Silk before I got the result of the biopsy. It hangs together for me. The bigger picture of safety of carageenan in food, etc, I will leave to others. I DO feel it is wiser in general to eat food closest to its natural state, and can’t help but think there are connections between the large amount of processed food we eat and the increases in certain health issues. Carageenan may or may not be a problem for many people, but, like lightning, if it strikes one in a million and it YOU or ME, it is a problem. Doctors are not the only ones who can conduct empirical trials.

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Iris,

      I completely agree with the idea about self experimentation. The natural universe is so complex and nuanced that it’s entirely possible that medical studies which are statistically valid can still have results that aren’t repeatable and individuals shouldn’t be afraid to try things on their own.

      I think this thread is a good example of that. Clearly many people have problems with carrageenan even though there may not be enough studies to create certain perceptions that it’s unsafe for everyone.

    • chances are that anything with soy in it is not good, because soybeans,[its source] are no
      doubt GE/GMO altered, and thats bad, as is most grain products. in todays world there’s
      not much food that is pure as in the olden days. even our city water is filled with chemicals,
      like floride, chloramine, and of course chlorine. with all these chemicals in our food and
      water is probably why the U.S ranks down the list as 45 as the least healthy society.

      • Jonathan Bechtel says:

        Merrio,

        I slightly disagree about the feelings towards soy. It’s still a nutritious substance, even genetically modified soybeans. As far as public health dilemmas go, city water is one of the least of our problems I think.

  34. Jen Stofleth says:

    My 5 year old was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis about 18 months ago. We’ve slowly been doing an elimination diet to try to figure out it if it was diet based. Silk Chocolate Soy milk was one of the things we eliminated and miraculously his rheumatologist can’t find any arthritis on him. We take it day by day in the hopes that his symptoms don’t return and that carrageenan was in fact the cause and that he will be able to lead an arthritis free childhood by eliminating that one ingredient.

    • Ellen Cloward says:

      Can he tolerate a lot of chocolate? I get severe arthritis when I eat chocolate, even if it is separated from milk and ingested just as pure chocolate powder. You have a product with Choc. and soy in it and you are only thinking it is the Carageenan?

  35. Carrageenan makes me physically ill. Doctors thought I had Crohn’s disease, because of my frequent cramping, diarrhea, and bloating–it was living hell. It’s been an eight month journey, but cutting carrageenan and Yellow 5 from my diet made the symptoms go away entirely.

    • Ellen Cloward says:

      Me too. And SPECIFICALLY my ileum starts hurting and cramping. I had all the Crohn’s symptoms and nothing was apparent on a Crohn’s test. Stopped Almond milk with carrageenan in it and the symnptoms went away. Now I drink raw goat milk. It self-digests because the enzymes are still active. I inquired about the feed and the dairy said they are careful not to use GMO alfalfa. After they said that, I was all for it! I buy their yogurt too.

  36. Recently I came across a nasal spray for common cold that contained carrageenan. Is it safe to use? It is recommended for children above 1 and adults. A bit worrying after reading up on the ill-effects of this ingredient. http://www.boots.com/en/Boots-Pharmaceuticals-Cold-Defence-Nasal-Spray-20ml_1224268/

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      dk,

      My guess is that the amount of nasal spray you’d ingest is so small that there wouldn’t be enough carrageenan to be dangerous.

  37. Jessica says:

    I don’t know how to thank you enough for this excellent and well written article. I have been having a major problem with my bladder due to the ingestion of carrageenan since last year and every doctor I’ve been to has misdiagnosed me, gave me the run around and even suggested psych drugs to mask the problem, saying that the nerves would feel more dulled as a result. Yeah, that’s right, let’s just cover up and mask the problem, that’ll fix it! I discovered it was carrageenan by the diet elimination method and the one thing that kept inflaming my bladder was the carrageenan ingredient/additive. I noticed the one thing I hadn’t eliminated was my coffee creamer. I have had far too many sleepless nights of which felt like complete torture and many thought I might have painful bladder or ICS but whenever I didn’t eat or drink anything with carrageenan, I felt just great and could eat whatever I want, even spicy foods. It was whenever I ingested anything with that one additive in it that I suffered greatly and it just happens to affect my bladder the most. Now that I’m doing more research, I’m realizing it’s in almost every brand of ice cream out there, lots of yogurts, creamers I used to love to add to my coffee, so many processed and pre-packaged foods (which should be avoided anyway), just practically everything.
    I’ve only been allergic to sulfas and read that that’s what carrageenan is, a red seaweed plant so this doesn’t surprise me. I remember having a terrible reaction to a sulfa medication back when I was younger but my reaction to it was different and it made my heart beat rapid and have avoided it at the doctor’s ever since so that’s just food for thought. I’ve written many companies to let them know of my ordeal and to please refrain from adding carrageenan in their products as I can no longer enjoy them like I used to. In fact, now that my family knows about it and what it has done to me, they are doing their best to avoid it as well. I wonder just how many other people may have the same or different, often debilitating and painful symptoms and just don’t realize it’s the carrageenan doing this to them? Had this never have happened to me, I’m sure I would refrain from buying anything with carrageenan in it as much as possible anyway due to learning about it’s ill effects and the fact that it can cause cancer. It’s just not a necessary ingredient for anything for human consumption. Again, thank you so much for writing this very informative article.

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Jessica,

      It warms my heart to find out my writing is having such a positive effect on people! If you read through the comments here, I think it’s clear that carrageenan bothers quite a few people, even if it’s been deemed “clinically safe” under certain types of testing. I feel comfortable with the assertion that it’s something that should be avoided on an on-going basis, and some people should steer clear of it entirely.

      Happy eating!

      • Jessica says:

        It warms my heart in return to have found someone like you who cares enough to write about this subject, carrageenan, that is typically deemed “safe” as many companies have responded to me due to the fact that carrageenan is from seaweed…lots of things are from nature like arsenic but does that make it safe for normal everyday consumption and in so many brands? No way! Everything in moderation can be okay but I’ve noticed carrageenan is practically everywhere just like soy. There has got to be so many people wondering what the heck is wrong with their stomachs, bowels, bladders, their skin and not making a connection yet and only through the diet elimination method will they possibly find the problem. I was so desperate, I was more than willing to go through a very bland diet and then try something I used to love one day at a time and if I had a reaction more than once or twice, sometime three times to be sure, then I knew the culprit. I try my best at avoiding it but I sometimes find that I mess up by thinking something as simple as a sorbet juice drink might be okay but sometimes there’s carrageenan in it and afterwards I suffer a couple of nights as if it were a total nightmare as a result. I just have to be extra, extra careful when ordering anything and whenever I have a calm day, I try to enjoy it to the fullest because it has become so rare for me but I am getting better at figuring out what works and what doesn’t but it’s never always perfect. Again, I so appreciate your research and article about this very important subject!

  38. Thank you for your post right now I am in the process of cutting it out!

  39. I have lupus and am now on a combination Fail Safe diet and grain dairy free additive free diet. Thank you so so so much for your article. This carrageenan is what is causing some of my debilitating issues.Can you post this article somewhere in an autoimmune section for others to read?

  40. Mark Watch says:

    1. SO MUCH FOR THE MYTHS.
    CONSIDER THE FACTS ON CARRAGEENAN FOR A CHANGE.

    Q. What is Carrageenan?

    … A. Carrageenan is a naturally-occurring seaweed extract. It is widely used in foods and non-foods to improve texture and stability. Common uses include meat and poultry, dairy products, canned pet food, cosmetics and toothpaste.
    Q. Why the controversy?
    A. Self-appointed consumer watchdogs have produced numerous web pages filled with words condemning carrageenan as an unsafe food additive for human consumption. However, in 70+ years of carrageenan being used in processed foods, not a single substantiated claim of an acute or chronic disease has been reported as arising from carrageenan consumption. On a more science-based footing, food regulatory agencies in the US, the EU, and in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) repeatedly review and continue to approve carrageenan as a safe food additive.
    Q. What has led up to this misrepresentation of the safety of an important food stabilizer, gelling agent and thickener?
    A. It clearly has to be attributed to the research of Dr. Joanne Tobacman, an Associate Prof at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She and a group of molecular biologists have accused carrageenan of being a potential inflammatory agent as a conclusion from laboratory experiments with cells of the digestive tract. It requires a lot of unproven assumptions to even suggest that consumption of carrageenan in the human diet causes inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract. The objectivity of the Chicago research is also flawed by the fact that Dr Tobacman has tried to have carrageenan declared an unsafe food additive on weak technical arguments that she broadcast widely a decade before the University of Chicago research began.

    Q. What brings poligeenan into a discussion of carrageenan?
    A. Poligeenan (“degraded carrageenan” in pre-1988 scientific and regulatory publications) is a possible carcinogen to humans; carrageenan is not. The only relationship between carrageenan and poligeenan is that the former is the starting material to make the latter. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan and cannot be produced in the digestive tract from carrageenan-containing foods.
    Q. What are the differences between poligeenan and carrageenan?
    A. The production process for poligeenan requires treating carrageenan with strong acid at high temp (about that of boiling water) for 6 hours or more. These severe processing conditions convert the long chains of carrageenan to much shorter ones: ten to one hundred times shorter. In scientific terms the molecular weight of poligeenan is 10,000 to 20,000; whereas that of carrageenan is 200,000 to 800,000. Concern has been raised about the amount of material in carrageenan with molecular weight less than 50,000. The actual amount (well under 1%) cannot even be detected accurately with current technology. Certainly it presents no threat to human health.
    Q. What is the importance of these molecular weight differences?
    A. Poligeenan contains a fraction of material low enough in molecular weight that it can penetrate the walls of the digestive tract and enter the blood stream. The molecular weight of carrageenan is high enough that this penetration is impossible. Animal feeding studies starting in the 1960s have demonstrated that once the low molecular weight fraction of poligeenan enters the blood stream in large enough amounts, pre-cancerous lesions begin to form. These lesions are not observed in animals fed with a food containing carrageenan.

    Q. Does carrageenan get absorbed in the digestive track?
    A. Carrageenan passes through the digestive system intact, much like food fiber. In fact, carrageenan is a combination of soluble and insoluble nutritional fiber, though its use level in foods is so low as not to be a significant source of fiber in the diet.
    Summary
    Carrageenan has been proven completely safe for consumption. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan.
    Closing Remarks
    The consumer watchdogs with their blogs and websites would do far more service to consumers by researching their sources and present only what can be substantiated by good science. Unfortunately we are in an era of media frenzy that rewards controversy.
    Additional information available:
    On June 11th, 2008, Dr. Joanne Tobacman petitioned the FDA to revoke the current regulations permitting use of carrageenan as a food additive.
    On June 11th, 2012 the FDA denied her petition, categorically addressing and ultimately dismissing all of her claims; their rebuttal supported by the results of several in-depth, scientific studies.
    If you would like to read the full petition and FDA response, they can be accessed at http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;rpp=25;po=0;s=FDA-2008-P-0347

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Well, this is a spirited and informative response. Thanks. Will follow up with more later.

  41. David5372 says:

    This is from WEBMD.com:

    Carrageenan is made from parts of various red algae or seaweeds and is used for medicine.

    Carrageenan is used for coughs, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and intestinal problems. The French use a form that has been changed by adding acid and high temperatures. This form is used to treat peptic ulcers, and as a bulk laxative.

    Some people apply carrageenan directly to the skin for discomfort around the anus.

    In manufacturing, carrageenan is used as a binder, thickening agent, and as a stabilizer in medications, foods, and toothpaste. Carrageenan is also an ingredient in weight loss products.

    How does it work?

    Carrageenan contains chemicals that may decrease stomach and intestinal secretions. Large amounts of carrageenan seem to pull water into the intestine, and this may explain why it is tried as a laxative. Carrageenan also might decrease pain and swelling (inflammation).

    Carrageenan is safe for most people in food amounts. There is a chemically altered form of carrageenan that is available in France to treat peptic ulcers. This form might be UNSAFE because there’s some evidence that it might cause cancer.
    Special Precautions & Warnings:
    Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Carrageenan is safe in amounts found in food, but there’s not enough information to know if it’s safe in the larger amounts that are used as medicine. It’s best to stay on the safe side and avoid use in medicinal amounts.

  42. Steve W says:

    People are confusing TWO different types of carrageenan. Degraded carrageenan is linked to cancer wich is not used in any food product. Food grade carrageenan is safe althoug people with seafood allergies may be sensitive to it.

  43. chezarae says:

    Anybody know how long it takes to leave the body and the damage done by it’s ingestion? Finally solved the mystery of my projectile vomiting hours after ingesting it. The light bulb moment for me was rotisserie chicken. After checking, found it in DoTerra (expensive) toothpaste and Lilly of the Valley aloe vera gel :(

  44. another story ditzing the scare about carrageenan – well researched and interesting view: so according to them listening to jimmy hendrix is probably about as unsafe when it comes to inducing cancer as consuming carrageenan! I’ve followed posts on this site and can see that some people think they have a problem with carrageenan but it seems they also eat pretty bad diets overall. I think they need to stop blaming a product that isn’t even ingested and look for diet related solutions. Taking things out is one thing, ensuring you get a good balanced diet is probably a better way of thinking…
    http://followyourheart.com/is-carrageenan-safe/

  45. Harry Tripp says:

    everal studies in the early 2000s suggested that a certain type of carrageenan — degraded carrageenan, which has been hydrolyed, or broken down by acid — could cause gastrointestinal problems, including cancers. The degraded type is not typically used in food. In fact, only the undegraded variety has been deemed safe for human consumption by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and approved for use in foods by the Food and Drug Administration in the US.

  46. All being said (Good arguments on both sides of this issue), I am watching the sourcing and the processing of the seaweed that contains carrageenan. As I mentioned in a previous comment, it may be good in small amounts, depending on your sensitivities; but all seaweed picks up contaminants, as being part of the ecosystem. Due diligence may be the key word here. Thanks for your time….

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      I think a decent summation of the carrageenan literature can be summed up as: (Mostly) harmless. Proceed with caution.

      • Jonathan,

        Great information. Great blog. Don’t know how I missed it these past two years.

        From personal experience, as well as reading and talking with others with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity for some reason many of us share an issue with seaweed in general – forget processed or not. We react to it with celiac-like symptoms. For me the celiac-like symptoms when I consume seaweed or its processed version carrageenan (from red seaweed species) are predominantly GI and severe joint and muscle pains and spasms – though I have other symptoms as well. I am the canary in the coal mine when it comes to seaweed and substances processed from seaweed. I recently discovered that manufacturers of GF carb products (breads, crackers, and such) who have been removing carrageenan due to consumer complaints are now using alginates (sodium/calcium/potassium alginate) or alginic acid in many of their new products.

        Life was good for my first few months gluten free with my new sense of developing wellness and lessening of lifelong odd medical issue that were increasingly starting to become debilitating in my 50s. Then symptoms began…discovered it was products with carrageenan – confirmed multiple times when I would accidently have half a small creamer that contained it or some other product that had been safe but then starting adding carrageenan. Months go by I am fine then develop symptoms with a sodium free version of MSG-magnesium ammonium glutamate in some chicken broth. Months go by again and when I come symptomatic from a can of beans with the kombu/brown seaweed. I am very careful about restaurants and cannot eat anything processed in a wheat factory – some cashews almost did me in one time when I missed that on the label.

        I can tell you that I have helped many unhealed celiac patients by having them eliminate carrageenan – and their remaining symptoms improve. Honestly, if I was a GI doc this substance is right up there with no gluten especially for those patients not healing despite a strict GF program. I also recommend avoiding seaweed – though some celiac folks eat the tested GF seaweed chips from the blades. I do know they only test for gliadins and not glutenin proteins with the seaweed. (I am still unclear if both of these are toxic for celiac folks.) My other thought is that perhaps more than just the blades are used when using seaweed as a preservative or in making the substance carrageenan and alginate.

        Finally, I was really not doing well for the first time in two years since being diagnosed and maintaining a strict GF diet. Had not eaten out in a while but had definite celiac symptoms and growing fatigue over the past several weeks, and I feared I was developing another autoimmune disorder. One evening it became clearly worse – rather than insidiously creeping up on me as it had been. I recalled taking two bites of a new GF bagel the day before. My husband and I could not believe when we looked at the label that it had sodium alginate (made from brown seaweed) as this manufacturer at customers’ insistence had removed carrageenan from their products. When I then realized our weekend snack of cream cheese and smoked salmon with bagel chips (also made with alginate) by the same manufacturer was likely the cause of my failing health and celiac-like symptoms. I am a week clean of seaweed and feeling much better but some joint symptoms have not completely resolved. Yes. I have contacted the GF manufacturer and another associated manufacturer that had alginate in its tortilla wraps, as well as the parent company we own stock in…I asked if they did not understand that seaweed is an issue for your major consumer group – celiac and NCGS folks and that alginate, if my experience is any indication, is as bad as carrageenan.

        I have corresponded with Dr. Tobacman in the past and sent her a note about my recent brown algae in the form of alginate experience, as well as a fellow celiac who is an MD who believes as I do that there is more to this seaweed reaction with celiac folks like me who have no other food sensitivities. We have been searching for scientists who have run amino acid sequencing on all parts of the common red and brown algae used in food products to see any are gluten like. While celiac specialists say MSG is fine, it remains an issue for many celiac and NCGS people, and keep in mind it was originally made from seaweed. Then there is that glutamate – free glutamate issue that I hate to delve into at this point as for me this is not an issue as I eat foods high in glutamate without incident.

        • Jonathan Bechtel says:

          Sharon….welcome! This is an ass-kickingly good comment. I find it interesting that MSG would give someone with celiac problems but glutamate would not, since MSG is basically a glutamate salt (despite its notoriety its chemically quite simple).

          Interesting take on the celiac/carrageenan/seaweed angle. If you find out more info please let me know and I’ll put it out on the blog.

          • Thanks Jonathan. There is no need to respond to this reply.

            I really think my hypothesis is a valid one for testing – and it seems like it would not take much to test the two or more common species of red algae used to produce carrageenan and the brown/kombu species used directly (as in the canned beans by one manufacturer who advertises as a GF producer and is working to get out carrageenan) and those brown species used in alginate. The major cost/effort would be in identifying and obtaining the correct species of algae (commonly used in our food products) in their entirety (stipe, blade, holdfast, and float) for a lab well versed in AA (amino acid) sequencing to test.

            Can you imagine if some part of these seaweeds contained gluten-like proteins of gliadins or glutenins? (When I was in high school we had to read with each unit a scientist’s book about the unit topic, like ecology or genetics or whatever. I recall reading the phrase that “seaweed was the wheat of the ocean” in terms of its nutritional value for future generations. Maybe it is in more ways than one!) If my idea is correct, our issue with inflammation caused by seaweeds used as salt preservatives or in carrageenan or now alginate would be easily resolved as manufacturers would need to label products with these as “contains gluten.”

            this is ever the case hopefully the seaweed industry of the Philippines will not threaten to sue me as they have done with Dr. Tobacman! Hopefully my email will alert her to look at this from a different angle. thepatientceliac,com is another good site with a woman MD who has celiac and she (like me) is impacted by carrageenan – though she noted after my canned bean experience she does not wish to eat anything with seaweed. She has been made aware of the alginate situation as well but has been away, I will guarantee you she will get on it as she had asked me for the name of the PhD from one of the celiac groups who had insisted that in some (yet inaccessible) gluten project of 5000 food stuffs that seaweeds had to have been tested and that I must have a problem with complex carbohydrate digestion – which I do not since I can even eat clean field-to-factory oats (as I may have noted) as well as corn (though I try to avoid it due to the sugar content and GMOs), rice, soy, etc. with no other food allergies.

            My husband who is of Irish decent was amazed (though I know I told him this) about carrageenan and how long the Irish have been using it…think about the high percentage of their population with celiac disease. Hmmm. The doctor was convinced he had it (a GI specialist) but he tested negative antibody wise and genetically; however, now some European scientist has identified another celiac gene – a third one – that has not received much play. And while the specialists regularly deny there is no connection of celiac to NCGS – that the later does not precede celiac. There is a case history from Ireland blows that out of the water – and let’s face it the Irish docs know how to test for celiac. Query “case history of Ireland patient celiac and ulcerative colitis”…The most complete article is the Medscape.com – if you go through a search engine you can get at it without signing up. Essentially, patient tested negative for celiac – antibody and small bowel biopsy then 5 years later with a worsening of symptoms she tested positive then also developed ulcerative colitis.

            My husband noted the other day aside from the bagels, bagel chips, and tortilla wraps that he has seen alginate in a number of salad dressings as well. It’s fine for me – I can cook, bake, and make my own dressings, but think of all the folks who, if like me, may unknowingly be impacted by this new “carrageenan” – and head to their doctor with GI, neuro, neuro-muscular, joint and other issues.

            Regarding free glutamates, I went down this posted list (http://www.msgfacts.com/nutrition/what_foods_are_glutamate-rich.aspx)and honestly many of these are regularly in my diet without issue. Overall, I feel my best with low-med amounts of healthy proteins, lots of vegetables, small amount of fruit – and limited processed carbs and sugars.

            Have a great new year! If I hear from Dr. Tobacman or Dr. Jess Walters (thepatientceliac.com) I will let you know.

            Sharon

  47. you guys I going to break it down simple and down to earth when you leave nature in its natural state it could be rewarding healing nourishing essential you name it read about Hippocrates let food be your medicine wow did he know now hell be in shock lol people sneaking stuff at all cost ect when its altered chemically body doesn’t know how to use it yes carrageenan its process haven’t found a way to make it stable jh

  48. when you are in question of a food ask yourself is it organic can they prove its organic not to sure our planet its polluted its it whole and organic maybe then maybe eat it and be happy its hard to prove its organic anyways should you brake your head no just be happy and remember if its process its not real food jh

  49. Holy heck. Here I splurged on this $49.99 jar of Schinoussa berry antioxidant greens powder and have been taking a teaspoonful every morning thinking I’m doing something healthy for myself, cleaning out the pipes as they say. And wondering why I’m getting more and more bloated by the day, it’s not just a feeling, my pants are getting tighter! As someone above said, I look and feel 10 months preggers! Not good! (Eating very low carb which was working for me) I look at the label and the top thing is Irish Moss! Ok~ Cutting that out as of immediately! Thanks for a great article!

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Tanya,

      Thanks for sharing!

      I think the problem for many is that in some people’s digestive tract carrageenan behaves a lot like gluten or other molecules which trigger an immune response.

      It could be pretty soon we’ll see “carrageenan” intolerance the same way people behave badly to soy or wheat.

      • I could never figure out why I was not feeling healthy on non-milk “milks”. Coconut, Hemp, Almond, Rice milk, etc. Then I read somewhere that Crohn’s symptoms could be partly alleviated by avoiding all carbohydrate “gums” added for texture enhancement, fiber, etc. My pain was specifically in the ileum. Whether it is celiac or Crohn’s, I’m not sure, and don’t know if it’s just carb intolerance, but I tried sticking with raw goat’s milk and herbal teas; then my symptoms decreased. 2 weeks on carrageenan containing products and my misery comes back in full force. Same thing happens with wheat. Go figure.
        There are only one or two soy milk brands that contain no enhancing “gums”, if you tolerate soy. Mixed opinions about soy are online.

        • Ellen, please beware that for me and many other celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitive folks our only other food/additive issue is carrageenan – for me the other gums are no issue (though I try to avoid these as well). See thepatientceliac.com (a woman MD with celiac) and theglutenfreeprofessor.com – to name a few who talk about their issue with carrageenan), and I recommend to anyone with other GI issues or diagnoses to eliminate this seaweed-based emulsifier at minimum. Anyone I have recommended this to has seen an abatement of their symptoms, however, as the glutenfreeprofessor noted only one GI doc at an international celiac conference even recognized carrageenan as an issues for celiac folks! This is being unaddressed despite my efforts and because of this I am boycotting Healthy Villi conference with docs from Mass General, Children’s and Boston Beth Israel. Friends with GI diagnoses ask their docs should they eliminate gluten, carrageenan and the doctors laugh and continue to prescribe $500 per dose IV administered meds instead. Why not give an elimination diet a try of known inflammatory foods? What can it hurt?

          I buried the lede – beware if you have issues with carrageenan – as foods, esp. bread products from UDIs and Glutino (Boulder Brands) now increasingly are adding alginates – under sodium alginate or other compound or alginic acid is made from brown algae/seaweed – and likely will elicit the same symptoms. I have alerted them about this, UNO’s who heard about this their head consumer person was very upset that one bite of their reconstituted roll (my husband’s burger) made me sick. Beware of kelp, etc. and a ton of other terms for seaweed now in our foods…

Trackbacks

  1. [...] concerns over the years, including that it’s a possible carcinogen (what isn’t?) but is generally considered safe. Overall, the campaign feels a bit like PETA-baiting. Vegan stuff is easy to ridicule, and, as the [...]

  2. [...] concerns over the years, including that it’s a possible carcinogen (what isn’t?) but is generally considered safe. Overall, the campaign feels a bit like PETA-baiting. Vegan stuff is easy to ridicule, and, as the [...]

  3. [...] concerns over the years, including that it's a possible carcinogen (what isn't?) but is generally considered safe. Overall, the campaign feels a bit like PETA-baiting. Vegan stuff is easy to ridicule, and, as the [...]

  4. [...] ha permitido el uso de ingredientes como el carragenano, un polisacárido derivado de las algas que incluso ha sido vinculado al cáncer, o del inositol sintético, que, como su nombre lo indica, se manufactura usando procesos [...]

  5. [...] ha permitido el uso de ingredientes como el carragenano, un polisacárido derivado de las algas que incluso ha sido vinculado al cáncer, o del inositol sintético, que, como su nombre lo indica, se [...]

  6. [...] permitido el uso de ingredientes como el carragenano, un polisacárido derivado de las algas que incluso ha sido vinculado al cáncer, o del inositol sintético, que, como su nombre lo indica, se manufactura usando procesos [...]

  7. [...] ha permitido el uso de ingredientes como el carragenano, un polisacárido derivado de las algas que incluso ha sido vinculado al cáncer, o del inositol sintético, que, como su nombre lo indica, se manufactura usando procesos [...]

  8. [...] ha permitido el uso de ingredientes como el carragenano, un polisacárido derivado de las algas que incluso ha sido vinculado al cáncer, o del inositol sintético, que, como su nombre lo indica, se manufactura usando procesos [...]

  9. [...] ha permitido el uso de ingredientes como el carragenano, un polisacárido derivado de las algas que incluso ha sido vinculado al cáncer, o del inositol sintético, que, como su nombre lo indica, se manufactura usando procesos [...]

  10. [...] ha permitido el uso de ingredientes como el carragenano, un polisacárido derivado de las algas que incluso ha sido vinculado al cáncer, o del inositol sintético, que, como su nombre lo indica, se manufactura usando procesos [...]

  11. [...] no one would buy it. This is why manufacturers add artificial flavors and thickeners such as carrageenan. It’s also next to impossible to find a nut milk without added sugar and inflammatory omega-6 [...]

  12. [...] more ambiguous.) Personally, I am going to continue my research (if you’re doing the same, here‘s a great place to start) and be more mindful of the additives that are in the products that [...]

  13. [...] you have any idea what carrageenan is? Do you know what it does to your body, and what its long-term effects might [...]

  14. [...] flavors, and it is something I have cut out of our diets almost 100% when we eat at home.  Here’s some food for thought about carrageenan, though I’m not sure exactly how I feel about this [...]

  15. [...] found one link that described the dangers of carrageenan , was helpful and looks like a good place to start.  Then another with conflicting information so [...]

  16. [...] I liked the ingredients & it didn't contain carageenan. Carrageenan Just Don't Do It Carrageenan Isn't Good For You: High Correlations to Cancer and Inflammation Mine will gobble up the canned w/out chewing their kibble if I mix it together, so I give it to [...]

  17. [...] is a polysaccharide that is derived from red seaweed.polysaccharide is a carbohydrateref site: Carrageenan [...]

  18. [...] ingredients are so. much. better. (Stonyfield’s YoKids Squeezers and Horizon Tuberz contain carrageenan, an ingredient I’m not a big fan of, but they’re still better than [...]

  19. [...] guar gum, and xanthum gum added to it.  Guar gum and xanthum gum are analogues of carrageenan, which has detrimental effects on your health.  Fructose is fattening and not good for you.  I’ve written about its effects here and here. [...]

  20. [...] of milk is Carrageenan, a substance derived from seaweed that is very similar to plastic.  In studies conducted on rats, scientists have found some links to gastrointestinal cancers and inflammation.  [...]

  21. [...] 7 different types of sugar, cellulose (wood fiber), canola and/or soybean oil (most likely GMO) and carrageenan,which may be linked to some cancers.  There is caramel color in this as well.  Caramel color is [...]

  22. [...] dysfunction triggered by the glutamate receptors in organs and tissue throughout the body(7). In Carrageenan's case, a derivative of processed seaweed, documented gastrointestinal inflammatory responses have [...]

  23. [...] Carageenan is derived from seaweed and is very similar on a molecular level to plastic. It is typically considered safe, but has a high correlation to colon cancer, inflammation, and a depressed immune system (http://blog.healthkismet.com/carrageenan-cancer-health-inflammation) [...]

  24. [...] found one link that described the dangers of carrageenan , was helpful and looks like a good place to start.  Then another with conflicting [...]

  25. [...] as an ingredient.  Some forms of carrageenan have been linked to cancer.  You can read about that here.  I would avoid this product and look for meats that are carrageenan and nitrate free.  Even [...]

  26. [...] I think just about everyone almond milk on the market has carrageenan in it & carrageenan has been linked to cancer. Carrageenan Isn't Good For You: High Correlations to Cancer and Inflammation [...]

  27. [...] turkey, which should just be turkey, has some nasty ingredients in it as well. First I see carrageenan, which may be linked to cancer.  I also see sodium nitrate which can raise your risk for heart [...]

  28. [...] Carrageenan – a controversial and questionable ingredient that is linked to digestive disorders and even cancer (source) [...]

  29. [...] Carrageenan – a synthetic emulsifier and questionable food additive that is linked to digestive disorders and even cancer (source) [...]

  30. […] both sides of the story are discussed. Read the main article, then skip down to the discussion. http://blog.healthkismet.com/carrage…h-inflammation Read the reply @ June 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm, and the further replies to that posting. Seriously, if […]

  31. […] ha permitido el uso de ingredientes como el carragenano, un polisacárido derivado de las algas que incluso ha sido vinculado al cáncer, o del inositol sintético, que, como su nombre lo indica, se manufactura usando procesos […]

  32. […] ha permitido el uso de ingredientes como el carragenano, un polisacárido derivado de las algas que incluso ha sido vinculado al cáncer, o del inositol sintético, que, como su nombre lo indica, se manufactura usando procesos […]

  33. […] abstract from the National Institute of Health / Articles like this one, this one, and this […]

  34. […] all my allergies I will always continue my research (if you’re doing the same, here‘s a great place to start) and be more mindful of the additives that are in the products that we […]

  35. […] and, despite disturbing evidence that this synthetic ingredient causes digestive problems and cancer, decided to allow it in organic for another 5 years”). You also want to buy […]

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