Is carrageenan unhealthy


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    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.
    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!searchResults;rpp=25;po=0;s=FDA-2008-P-0347
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Is carrageenan unhealthy

  1. 1. Is carrageenan unhealthy?Carrageenan is a common food/non-food additive that derived its name from Irish Moss seaweed(ChondrusCrispus). This non-nutritive additive is produced from seaweeds and/or algae and isused primarily as a thickening agent to hold compounds together, for instance, in toothpastes,non-dairy milks, ice creams, soups, sauces, and even in pet food. Even though carrageenan hasbeen used for 100s of years, studies are still being conducted on the safety of its use.Iscarrageenan safe for us to use in our everyday lives, for consuming and non-food uses?In 2001, a study was conducted to see how carrageenan reacts in the body after consumption.Although this study was performed on animals, scientists predict the negative findings couldpossibly equate to the metabolism of humans. Scientists found that the exposure to carrageenanproduced “colonic ulcerations” and gastrointestinal problems in animals that may have been dueto the acid hydrolysis reaction inside the stomach or the interaction with intestinal bacteria.Unfortunately, it is unknown how much of the additive it took to produce these harmful effects butthe scientists suggest the consumption of carrageenan should be reevaluated nonetheless.What I personally find interesting is that carrageenan is found primarily in processed foods whichcontain a hefty amount of refined carbohydrates, sugars, and very little nutritional valuewhatsoever. It makes me wonder if scientific studies used 100% carrageenan for their testsubjects or if they used foods that contained them. Perhaps there is a negative synergistic effectwhen one consumes the additive in over-processed foods.Personally, my intake of carrageenan is somewhat moderate. For instance, my largest source ofcarrageenan probably comes from the store-bought almond milk that I drink. I predict that theadditive is used in such a fashion so that the ingredients used in making the nondairy milk canchemically stay together. Furthermore, I have never experienced any gastrointestinalcomplications after drinking almond milk or any other food that contains it. I hardly consumeprocessed foods, where carrageenan is prominently found. Perhaps I just am not eating enoughcarrageenan to show any negative effects, such as those found in certain scientific researchstudies.According to a well-known scientific researcher, Joanne K. Tobacman, M.D., now associateprofessor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, carrageenan wasonce used to cause inflammation in the body so that anti-inflammatory drugs can be usedafterwards to test their effectiveness. Tobacman also found that laboratory mice that were fed
  2. 2. low concentrations of carrageenan for about two and a half weeks developed intolerance toglucose and also had impaired insulin action. This, in turn, was concluded to cause diabetes. Thearticle ends with Dr. Weil saying, “I recommend avoiding regular consumption of foods containingcarrageenan… especially important advice for persons with inflammatory bowel disease.”In closing, carrageenan still needs to be studied upon for its safety. The best way one can makesure carrageenan isn’t harmful for them is to observe how they feel after consuming food orusing a product that contains it.Sources: Weil, Andrew. "Dr. Weil." Miller, Becky. "" carrageenan-in-it/ "Cyber Colloids." carrageenan-structure "Chemistry Daily." JK, Tobacman. "NCBI."